Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Joan Baez and, of course, Johnny Cash: They all have recorded "I Still Miss Someone," one of the most moving and durable songs from Cash's catalog. Add Winston-Salem's Sally Spring to that list. Her version—which slows things to 45-at-33 speed—can stand with any of its predecessors. Thick, quivering guitar conveys both warmth and spookiness, forming the perfect knotty-pine frame for Spring's voice, an instrument rich with experience.
The confidence to embrace the challenge of covering the Cash staple—and to position someone else's composition as the centerpiece of your singer-songwriter record—comes from making music across four decades. Spring's 1978 record, Bird, was prime Americana long before that term came into vogue. And when she released Mockingbird almost 30 years later, in 2006 (anchored by versions of another sacred country song, "Hickory Wind"), she was an instant poster woman for Americana just by doing what she'd always done.
Made of Stars follows Mockingbird's lead, but it ups the ante by digging out surprises in folk-rock's corners, with help from a crack veteran band, her producer/ multi-instrumentalist husband Ted Lyons and special guests like Susan Cowsill and Gurf Morlix. The Spring-penned title track is blessed not only with a chorus so gorgeous that you can't wait for it to come back around, but also cello, viola and night-kissed piano. A gutty live take on Willie Dixon's "It Don't Make Sense" is a treat you don't see coming, as is "Short Side of Nothing," a lost treasure from Los Lobos' Kiko delivered as if Linda Thompson became a Piedmont rocker.
And Spring originals like "Lake Pontchartrain" (co-written with Peter Holsapple) and "Summer's End" lean toward the lovely, making another of her own, "Beautiful Ride," a fitting two-word summation of the entire affair.