Celebrated singer-songwriter and musical virtuoso, Susan Werner has released her 14th studio album, Flyover Country. In this record, yet another in a series of ambitious concept albums, Werner embraces the sounds and song-forms of traditional country and bluegrass. Lapsteel and dobro (played by producer and slide wizard Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner), pedal steel, upright bass, drums and fiddle are all put to use in the service of ten originals that speak to the pandemic, authoritarianism, grief, an appreciation of small town life, and the increasing appeal of drinking too much wine. Her hopeful ode to the end of the pandemic, “To Be There” was recently selected by the Biden/Harris staff for the campaign’s concert series, Team Joe Sings, and was played at the close to their nationwide staff pre-debate pep rally.
From the anthemic Southern rock opening track “Long Live (My Hometown)” to the Nashville glam-country of “Why Why Why”, the album is a rollicking ride through the country music canon, but with Werner’s signature lyrical twists. “Snake Oil’s” greasy salesman peddles a certain kind of political hucksterism; in “Eldorado,” a hailstorm is a working man’s ticket to a luxury car; and in a co-write with folk songsmith John Gorka, “Wine Bottles” are somehow getting smaller all the time.
“It’s always the juxtaposition of things, that’s where the energy is,” Werner says. “Bringing faith and doubt together was the soul of The Gospel Truth (2007), and with this record I wanted to honor the great goodness of my farming family, my small town, my rural upbringing while acknowledging some of the shadows that were and still are part of ‘country’ living.”
Raised on a working farm in Eastern Iowa, Susan Werner comes by her Country music bonafides honestly. “The song ‘Barn Radio’ is a portrait of my dad working as the Holsteins came in to be milked. The AM radio was his companion, in the barn and on the tractors out in the field, and we’d sit on the fender and ride along with him and sing along.”
Recently, Werner was hand-picked by the Biden/Harris campaign initiative, Team Joe Sings, to perform her song, “To Be There” for their concert series running weekly leading up to election night. Each Thursday, a new selection of musicians are featured performing in support of the presidential and vice presidential candidates. On September 24th Werner joined artists including Los Lobos, Matt Beringer (The National), Andrew Bird and The Harlem Gospel choir in lending her voice to the cause.
“When the nationwide lockdown began in March, I figured there had to be songs already written, sometime, somewhere, about a pandemic, whether the flu or something else,” says Werner. “As I was writing a country album at the time, I searched through the catalogs of The Carter Family and The Louvin Brothers and other traditional country artists, and couldn't locate anything that dialed in on a pandemic per se. So, hey, what are you gonna do, but write the song yourself? And having written a ‘gospel’ album back in 2007, I'd learned that hope, hope itself is at the heart of the best gospel music. We're all hoping for an end to this isolation, this separation from our loved ones, "these sorrows, these worries and cares," as the song says. On the day the pandemic ends, we all want To Be There.”
The Biden/Harris team was so taken with “To Be There,” they chose it to close out their pre-debate strategy zoom meeting earlier this month.