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  • Tara Crutchfield

Orange Blossom Child

The soul of country rock and roll

lives down the street from me

Do you feel that swaying kick drum

Pulsing on the heat

The mighty heron soars across

Lines of gold and blue

Close your eyes

Let your hands keep time

To the sky king’s wingin’ beat

“You inspired that,” Van Plating says to Jon Corneal.

“It’s always nice to get a good report,” he says back, smiling.

“Agreed,” says Van.

Track number nine comes on – “Zion is a Woman.”

“This is you,” Van looks at Jon. Van is dressed to kill, per usual. Wild wavy hair frames her face, tamed only by a cowboy hat. She wears a pair of vintage boots. Jon’s in a red leather coat and black boots embroidered with green filigree. He sports a black cowboy hat, red bandana, and silver bolo tie. He taps his feet to the old-school rhythm and sips a Coke. Jon’s ‘better than a metronome’ timing sets the pace for Van’s angelic Americana vocals. “Who’s your steel player?” he asks, followed by, “Your voice sounds nice.”

The pioneer of country rock drumming and the Americana music rising star are separated by time, united by tempo, and tap their feet in sync.

Jon pulls a CD from his coat pocket and invites us to listen to his seminal ’60s country rock recording from Bradley’s Barn in Nashville. We listen to one song, then another. “Play one more, would you,” he says. Of course, we oblige.


Plating was sonically inspired by Florida country rock and roll for her latest album, Orange Blossom Child. She filled her well with the likes of Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Jon Corneal’s timeless beat on Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and a heavy dose of Tom Petty. Her literary inspirations remain unchanged – Wendell Berry, Patti Smith, Mary Oliver. “I translated that syntax and that sort of rhythm of speech into scenes from here,” she said.

From road names to nature, Plating paid homage to her homeland. “I wanted to do it in a way that if you weren’t from here, they’re catchy songs that you’d want to listen to, hopefully over and over again.”

Her aim? To shed a light on the region’s storied musical past. “A lot of folks don’t know how much rich history there is here, in Florida specifically, in Roots music,” she said.

The album’s sound is current, with threads from the past laced throughout each lyric, each song. There are 32 collaborators alongside the southern songstress on the album. “I didn’t realize how many people were on the album until I started making the credits,” she said. Plating arranged, edited, and produced everything, working remotely with collaborators. “It’s a really different process than anything I’ve done before,” she said. She’d dress the skeleton of a song in pedal steel, electric guitar, or organ as she saw fit for the tune.

“There’s beauty in every kind of approach you can have with making art. It was interesting, though, doing it layer by layer like that. It had to be a really organic process.”

A few years ago, before releasing Orange Blossom Child, Plating predicted of her future album, “It’ll sound kind of live, a little grittier than what I’ve done before. It’ll be me, so it’ll be raw and colorful, and hopefully, people will get it – we’ll see.”

She feels the same today. “It was a lot grittier because I had the vocal production in my own hands. No one was there to try and make me pretty or polish me up or make me sing a little softer.” Even today, women in the studio are tediously managed. “I didn’t want that because it takes away from the emotion of your performance if everything is pretty. Life isn’t pretty all the time.” 

Storytelling is like breathing for Van Plating. This album’s Americana charm and southern grit tell true stories of heartbreak and healing, hard times and joyful moments. “I wanted to take all of those universal experiences, but I wanted to dial it into something that was honest.”

Country rock pioneer Jon Corneal plays drums on two tracks. “I saw his interview in Haven and that was right around the same time I’d gotten this little germ of an idea to do something about who I am, where I’m from,” said Plating. “I had no idea that an original Flying Burrito Brother was playing at Hillcrest every Friday.”

Nervous but determined, Plating approached Corneal after his set one Friday. She said she was a fan and wanted to get to know him a little better. “Jon is always down for anything I’ve since learned,” she said.

The following week, the pair grabbed lunch at Mega Mercado. Plating listened intently for hours to Corneal’s stories. She worked up the nerve and asked if he’d collaborate with her. “I’m always honored when somebody asks,” Corneal said. “That means I’ve still got my chops.” 

They headed to St. Pete to record Corneal’s drumming for “Zion is a Woman” and “Joel Called the Ravens.”

“The way he plays drums is so different from a modern drummer,” Plating said. “His patterns, his phrasing – it’s so specific to him.” Once she returned to the studio with his parts in hand, “It completely changed the entire song. […] What ended up resulting in those two songs is something I never would have come up with by myself.”  

“It’s always fun,” Corneal said. “You never know what’s going to happen in the studio. You go in there aiming for magic and do the best you can.”

Orange Blossom Child is magic — an amalgamation of past and present. Central Florida country rock revived – set to the rhythm of a living legend. Like the song “Hole in My Chest,” this album evokes big feelings.

Photography by Amy Sexson


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