Copyright 2000 - Aries 004
Western Massachusetts Music
555 Bay Road
Amherst, MA 01002
This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 4/00
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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Massachusetts. Where there are more registered folksingers than Democrats. Fortunately for us, one of them is Richard Berman whose latest release "Storied Lives" is a continuance of his precise, well-crafted creations. Berman is an inquisitive and keen observer who draws inspiration from a multitude of sources, without succumbing to overwriting.
Here, Berman dips into mythology ("Broken Wings", "Oedipus"), cultural dichotomy ("On the Mexican Coast"), familial relationships ("Broken Wings" again, "The Cowboy's Tale", "Sweeter Than Playing Alone", "Sarah", "Let Him Know Your Heart", "How Old Is Your Boy" and "Song to My Father"), the contrasts within nature ("Alamogordo"), new age group psychology ("Arthur, Arthur, Arthur") and football ("Odessa"). Did I leave anything out?
The subtle but powerful "On the Mexican Coast," based upon an anonymously written story emailed to Berman, contrasts the paths two individuals take to reach a similar goal. A retired American businessman and a Mexican fisherman compare notes on their goals in life. The retiree wonders why the fisherman doesn't work longer and harder so as to buy a second boat, eventually a fleet, a canning plant and then a stock offering leading to the plush retirement of a millionaire. The fisherman, who earlier states "I have enough for my needs" asks:
"...'Millions?' The fisherman picked up his sack
'And then, what then? What comes after that?'
The American scanned the sea and the boats
'You retire to a village on the Mexican coast...'"
Exactly the life the fisherman is currently leading.
"Oedipus," is a worthy companion piece to Mark Graham's hilarious "Oedipus Rex." Berman sings:
"Doc, you may be thinking that you're having a bad day
Feeling weighted down by all the horrid things your patients say
But take it from ole Oedipus, you're not alone, my day's no charm
I just found out this morning that I'm married to my mom
That really ruined our breakfast, just completely changed the mood
I was halfway through my fruitcup, two grapes slid off spoon
Me and sweet Jocasta, so well-suited by our yens
My thing for older women, her thing for younger men...
I sat there with my breakfast, pushed the eggs around my plate
I thought I heard it all, but there was more to contemplate
Doc, I was in shock, my eyes grew large, my shoulders sagged
I not only married Mom, seems I also killed my Dad...
Am I a monster, or fate's victim? Doc, what do you think?
I'd be grateful for some comfort, must you sit there like a sphinx?
Well, I still have my children, you know how much I love my kids
Now our ties go even deeper, they're also my own sibs..."
Backed by Chris Divine on fiddle and with harmony vocals by Kate Wallace, Berman's "Sweeter Than Playing Alone" is a love letter to a betrothed. He sings:
"...Some things are hard to say
Doesn't mean that they're not felt
I have trouble with some words
I keep them mostly to myself
But you have not been fooled
Never needed to be told
It's just another reason
When I'm with you I am home...
There's folks that crave excitement
Go 'bout wanting things to change
But I've found that isn't true for me
I want things to stay the same
I like reaching out at night
Maybe softly stroke your hair
Slip my arm around you
And know you want it there..."
His chorus goes:
"Close my eyes, I am lost in the music
My guitar, your fiddle and bow
There's a joy I have found in our duet
So much sweeter than playing alone"
Inspired by the book "Friday Night Lights," "Odessa" dramatizes how high school football provides life's defining moments for both individuals and community in that west Texas town. Berman's last chorus, depicting a former player who now probably sells cars, tends bar or labors out in the oil fields, goes:
"Somewhere in Odessa
The tape rolls on the hundredth time
He knows every plays that's coming
And still he stares, and still he smiles"
With exquisite piano backing by Chris Haynes that adds emotional content, "Sarah," is Berman sweetly speaking of his wife:
"There's a whole lot of talk, and some of it's mine
About getting old, about how time flies
But I don't feel life has passed me by
And that's mostly 'cause of Sarah...
Love's an easy word for some
No doubts or fears to hold their tongues
I was not among those lucky ones
That is, until sweet Sarah
If I met Sarah now but I was still a young man
Such a much older woman wouldn't hold my glance
But I'm as drawn to her as when we first began
Some wonders are beyond me..."
He closes with "Song to My Father," a portrait of a young man desiring acceptance for who he is, regardless of his father's plans for him. Berman sings"
"...Who do you see when we are talking?
Is it anyone I know?
Is it some child of your own making?
Is it you from long ago?...
I can draw you out with questions
Such a safe, familiar part
But all that's said won't bring us closer
If I don't give voice to my heart
Daddy, I never will be famous
The world won't knock upon my door
But I try real hard to be an honest man
Can you let your dreams slip away?
I'd love for you to know me as I am"
Never splashy or outrageous, Berman is the perfect fit for those quiet nights of comtemplation. If you aren't thinking about anything in particular as you slip his music into your CD player, you certainly will be doing so afterwards.
Berman on vocals and guitar is backed by Chris Devine on penny whistle and fiddle; Chris Haynes on accordion and piano; Kate Wallace, Jim Henry and Kate O'Connor on vocal harmony; Rico Spence on bass; and Max Cohen on lead guitar.
All songs written by Richard Berman.
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