Matraca Berg's last album, 'Sunday Morning to Saturday Night,' released a mere 14 years ago, was hailed by USA Today, Time, Entertainment Weekly and People, among others, as one of the year's Top 10 releases.

Now the songwriter whose tunes have been covered by Kenny Chesney ('You and Tequila'), Trisha Yearwood ('Wrong Side of Memphis'), Martina McBride ('Wild Angels'), Reba McEntire ('The Last One to Know') and Deana Carter ('Strawberry Wine') among countless others, returns with her own moody, enigmatic collection, 'The Dreaming Fields,' out Tuesday (May 17) on Dualtone. [Listen to the full album here.]

"I knew when I was writing these songs, the ones that I was drawn to ... that they deserved to be heard," says the Nashville native, who landed her first No. 1 single as an 18-year-old songwriter with 'Faking Love' (recorded by T.G. Sheppard and Karen Brooks). "They were a bit deeper and darker than a lot of what's happening, so I knew it was up to me. I'd done some shows with various girlfriends, and when you look at the women -- and the men -- in the audience, I realized these stories I'm writing are their stories too. So, making sure they get to them became important to me."

'The Dreaming Fields' contains songs that touch on delicate subjects, from a battered woman ('If I Had Wings'), to the selling of the family farm (the title track, inspired by the plight of her grandfather's Wisconsin dairy farm) to a mother seeing her son sent off to war ('South of Heaven'). Matraca acknowledges the raw, rare beauty of albums she grew up listening to and the role that music has played in inspiring her own writing.

"I was raised on [Neil Young's] 'Harvest' and [Joni Mitchell's] 'Blue,' [and Emmylou Harris'] 'Pieces of the Sky," notes Matraca. "That's the sound of my childhood. When I started writing these songs, I pulled them out -- and it struck me how bare they were and driven by feel. The songs floated on the arrangements, and the vocals were all the emotions the songs had come from. It's so far from what we hear now, but everything I wanted this record to be."

As to what has made the admittedly somewhat reclusive artist return to recording after a decade-and-a-half, she says, "It is a little strange to be back out here. But these songs, and the women in them ... They deserved to be heard and seen and to be realized. So many people are never put in the light, and 'The Dreaming Fields' is about recognizing their courage, strength and dignity in a world that is often decaying around them."

Matraca will appear on Wednesday (May 18) at the Housing Works Bookstore & Café in Manhattan's SoHo district, with all proceeds benefiting AIDS and homelessness. Tickets are available at the Housing Works Bookstore website.