Place not only defines us inexorably, but it also exerts a spell on us so that we’re often craning our necks looking back at the memories of the places in which we’ve lived, loved, and lost. Toward the end of her new album, Flyover Country, Susan Werner evokes the palpable beauty of place in “Barn Radio.” The spare and sparkling love song opens simply with Werner alternating vocals and guitar strums on a minor chord before dobro, lap steel, and fiddle flow lushly into this country rounder, elevating it to a joyous paean to place. “Barn Radio” celebrates both the power of place to draw us back to its beauties and the memories and music that allow us to return momentarily to those special places: “All the places I have been/All the sights that I have seen/Omaha to Istanbul/All the wonders in between there is none compare/To the night back there/With the radio on.” It’s the defining song of Flyover Country, and the other songs on the album circle around the theme of place and the snippets of song, the fragrances, the sights and sounds, the newspaper clippings, the people that evoke the precious and enduring character of the places that dwell in us, shaping us and sustaining us.
The album opens with an anthem to small towns everywhere, “Long Live,” a rousing acclamation of Werner’s own little home hometown that rides along a crisp, crystalline dobro line. It’s the place that shapes her, where the “post office still delivers” and which has survived recessions. We might fly past such towns as we barrel down the interstate, but Werner fiercely and fondly advocates for its health and longevity: “You might think it’s nowhere/You might not ever go there/Just some town, out somewhere/Unless like me you’re from there/It raised me up, it made me who I am/So pardon me if I still give a damn.” “El Dorado” opens with chords echoing Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “I Feel Lucky” and then choogles down the road along screaming lap steel and driving guitar lines, leaving any hot rod Lincolns in a cloud of dust. The gospel tune “To Be There,” fittingly subtitled “A Hymn in Times of Pandemic,” evokes the longing and yearning for restoration and for reunion, and the rejoicing that will occur when loved ones are reunited and “shoulder to shoulder sing ‘Amazing Grace’.” In the shuffling country crooner, “Wine Bottle,” co-written with John Gorka, Werner offers a tongue-in-cheek take on one of the world’s most pressing problems: the size of wine bottles and the fact that they’re getting smaller all the time.
Flyover Country celebrates the power of place, even as it points out that the places we hold special in our memory sometimes have their shortcomings. Werner’s emotional honesty provides depth to each song as it ponders the ways that memory can create false pictures of home, even as it has the power to recall with crystal clarity moments of love and affection and beauty.