Miko Marks understands if you're a bit confused about her new cover of "Hard Times."

Originally published in 1854, the song was written by Stephen Foster, an American songwriter whose well-known songs also include, among others, "Oh, Susanna" and "Camptown Races." Perhaps you'll be familiar with the versions by Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan or, perhaps most famously, Mavis Staples, who included it on her Grammy-winning 2004 album Beautiful Dreamer.

Foster's music, however, is tied to the era's blackface minstrel shows: "Much of his success came through the appropriation of Black culture and music," Marks notes. Indeed, though he used southern themes in his music, Foster was born in Pennsylvania and never lived in the South.

To Marks, though, "this felt like an opportunity to take a song of his and reclaim it through my own voice as a Black artist." And its message certainly feels timely in 2021.

"The lyrics also have particular significance that I think everyone can relate to because of the hard times we’ve been going through this year," Marks reflects. "I love the melody and the mood. It’s sweet, sad and hopeful all at the same time."

Listen to Miko Marks' "Hard Times":

Marks features her version of "Hard Times" on her forthcoming new album, Our Country. The 10-track project, co-produced with Steve Wyreman and Justin Phipps, is her first release in more than a decade -- 13 years to be exact.

After she moved to Nashville in the early 2000s, Marks struggled as an independent Black artist -- an independent Black woman, nonetheless -- and despite earning accolades from People and other outlets, she packed up and headed for California for a fresh start. Disillusioned, Marks took a break from country music until 2019, when a vivid dream inspired her to return to her path.

Now, Our Country is due out on March 26, via Redtone Records. Get more details at MikoMarks.com.

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