New Non-Fiction

Susan Werner

Independent release, 2023

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Discovering Susan Werner was a happy accident for me. It was one of the songs the Evil Green Circle said was similar to other things I listen to, and lo and behold, it was correct. Susan Werner is a gifted lyricist like Carrie Newcomer, a soft-voiced, husky alto like Rosanne Cash, and jumps around styles like Suzanne Vega. She is invariably presented as ‘contemporary folk’, a musical label I’m not very fond of. For me, at least, folk music is either Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger; quiet guitar and voice but with a fierce intensity. Yes, Werner can do that, but she can do so much more.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Her 2001 release, New Non-Fiction, is an excellent collection of songs, varied in style, and performed with a simple grace. While the focus is on Werner’s voice and guitar, there are often moments of musical variance; Hammond organ on “Misery And Happiness” and “(It’s OK To) Feel Good,” steel guitar on “Blue Guitar,” subtle mandolin on “Barbed Wire Boys” (and there will be more said about that song in a bit, trust me).

New Non-Fiction is a musical smorgasbord, in the best sense of the word. “Big Car” dips into country-blues, and Werner lets her voice go and has some fun with it. “Stationary” is a useful piece of life advice and a Beatlesque, precisely-performed piece of music. And “Barbed Wire Boys”…

How do I explain “Barbed Wire Boys”? Werner, like me, is from the Midwest, and this is her tribute to all the quiet, gruff rural men she grew up with. It’s also a sad, sad song, because Werner dares to suggest that these men had dreams, other lives, flights of fancy and whimsy they wanted to indulge in, but didn’t dare because of responsibility.

Tough as the busted thumbnails
On the weathered hands,
They worked the gold plate
Off their wedding bands,
And they never complained, no, they never made noise
And they never left home, those barbed wire boys…”

In the end, Werner equates the pressure to conform residing in these men to being wrapped in barbed wire; one move outside your societally-circumscribed place and you will cut, and hurt, and bleed. Incredibly powerful stuff, and an incisive look at the kind of people you are not likely to hear Cardi B mentioning.

New Non-Fiction is a powerful, mature piece of work. Each song has depth to it, multiple metaphors clamoring for attention, and it demands you listen. An amazing piece of work.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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