This spring, Collin Herring's third album dropped. Its curious title, Past Life Crashing, is probably more indicative of what this talented young singer/songwriter has been about since his last release.
Taking up guitar when he was in eighth grade, Herring has been using it to write songs about a variety of life experiences. It was only after a brief foray into college life that he decided he has something to say and began forming a band. His farther, Ben Roi Herring, became an integral part of what musically materialized. The elder Herring's keyboards, harmony vocal, and pedal steel renderings fleshed out what the younger Herring brought to the table. Adding depth to the mix was Jeremy Hull who is a classically trained bass player, long-time friend Austin Barker on guitar, and Billy Waters on drums.
They released the first batch of Collin Herring songs in 2002 in Avoiding the Circus. That CD was more alt-rock than alt-country as he's now being labeled. His raw sound was produced and engineered by Matt Pence who produced unusual groups such as Centro-matic and The Polyphonic Spree. This album immediately won young Herring Album of the Year and Best New Artist in 2003 by his hometown paper, the Fort Worth Weekly.
The Other Side of Kindness (2005), his second CD, solidified that alt-rock feel with more guitar clash and volume while pumping out songs about drinking and regret. That album was produced by Stuart Sikes who handled such disparate artists as Loretta Lynn, White Stripes, and Modest Mouse. The album was layered and more sophisticated, but had a very definite edge. At this time, Herring began to experience frustration from playing darker music than the southern rock bands he was opening for. This set him apart, but also hindered finding his proper fans. This continued to haunt his writing and touring.
Between that sophomore album and Past Life Crashing, a lifetime of experiences hit Collin Herring. In three short years, he was married and divorced and went to rehab twice. He also recorded and mixed then rerecorded and mixed the same songs, and sometimes rewrote, recorded, and remixed some songs, until he was satisfied. It is leaner than The Other Side of Kindness, with each song trimmed to a sparseness that has become his signature. The sound is also much softer, though full.
Herring says that this new work is about the common man. The songs, however, are more complex than a simple country tune or even some roots albums. They are also a bit more challenging to grab onto. At times the lyrics, though innovative and interesting, overwhelmed the songs. I longed for a catchy chorus or a hook, as much as I hate to admit that. However, I did find something real and very accessible in "Punches," but the darker side of life is ever present and invades nearly every song.
Instrumentally, sometimes I felt the songs were a bit overproduced, especially with the addition of strange sounds and synth. At other times, the music grounded the songs. It should be noted that only Collin Herring and his father remain of the original Collin Herring band on this album. Drums and percussion are handled by Joey Shuffield, Harmoni Kelley tackles bass and vocals, and Alan Durham does the honors on guitars. There also is some lovely female backup done by Canadian singer, Kathleen Edwards.
Still, Past Life Crashing, marks Collin Herring as an talented songwriter whose grasp of the dark avenues of life is unprecedented. It is a highly emotional album that touches on the desperation of love and loneliness. Herring recently headlined at the Thristy Nickel as part of the SXSW Festival in Austin, drawing more fans as he showcased this new work.