ARTIST: RICHARD BERMAN

LABEL: ARIES RECORDS

RELEASE DATE: 2014

By Jackie Morris

Richard Berman is one of the great masters of the story-song. And his new seventh album, You’re Home Now, just might be his best work yet. This is no small compliment...as decades of critical acclaim, multiple awards, and Folk DJ “favorite” lists can attest to. Poetic yet always relatable – intimate, thought-provoking, and entertaining – his songs draw you in with lovely, haunting melodies and hold you with beautifully understated feeling.

Berman has composed a wide variety of modern folk ballads for this album, all delivered in a voice of uncommon candor. But he also has incorporated several upbeat Americana songs as well, along with occasional overtones of gospel, old-time blues, and Middle Eastern music. Helping him achieve this diversity is Berman’s producer, Max Cohen, on guitar (as well as occasional bass and harmony) and over a dozen talented guest artists, including Chris Devine and Donna Herbert on fiddle, Chris Haynes on piano and accordion, Marcie Brown on cello, and Joe Fitzpatrick on percussion.

It is, to be sure, an extremely tasteful, excellent production...subtle and sophisticated. But in the end, it is always Berman’s lyricism that steals the show. With the eye of an artist, he creates moods, characters, and personal relationships that are realistic and sympathetic. And while the initial impression might be one of gentle, moving music filled with a quiet wisdom, make no mistake: Berman never shies away from controversial topics.

This is evident in the title track of the album, You’re Home Now. It deals with the true story of two lesbian women, deeply in love, one of whom struggles to overcome rejection by her fundamentalist parents. In the end, love wins the day...and “You’re home now” are the words that the once-intolerant mother finally says to her daughter’s partner. It is a profoundly moving, unforgettable song, and Berman has added another layer of realism to it by asking a woman to sing it – the wonderfully talented Jamie Anderson – accompanied only, and eloquently, by Chris Haynes on piano.

 

 

Of course, this is far from the only poignant song on the album. It opens with a beautiful piece called Quoddy Point, co-written with Buddy Mondlock (the only co-write on the album). Quoddy Point is, in fact, the easternmost point in the United States. As such, it receives the first rays of light in the morning and has always been frequented by young lovers. The song is sung by the old lighthouse keeper as he watches a pair of these young lovers and reminisces about his own lost love when he was young. There is a quiet yearning in this song –tinged with sadness, but still looking towards that first light – that makes this song a true piece of poetry. And that mood is reflected perfectly in the cello of Marcie Brown and fiddle of Donna Herbert.

It is followed by A Father and a Daughter, a quiet portrait of an often unspoken event in modern life – when it’s time for a parent to “let go” of almost-grown children. It contains one of my favorite truisms in the album, as the father says: “I miss you even now before you’ve gone.”

Then the album bursts into a fabulously exotic and exciting song called An Appointment in Samarra. Based on a one-paragraph story by W. Somerset Maugham, it is the tale of a Baghdad merchant whose servant meets Death in the marketplace and tries to escape him. I’ll let you find out what happens when you listen to the song. This track is alive with rhythm and a Middle Eastern cadence, accomplished in large part by Chris Devine on fiddle, Joe Fitzpatrick on percussion, and Rusty Annis on dumbek.

There are 13 tracks in all on this album – all of them gems. But I must point out four more of my favorites. My Mother is Religious is filled with dynamic percussion, a traditional “old time religion” organ, and some rather untraditional brilliant philosophy. It starts out on a deliciously ironic note: “My mother is religious. She just doesn’t believe in God.” But, after opening in this somewhat humorous vein, Berman takes us by surprise by telling us what his mother does believe in. And those beliefs are so very deeply spiritual – truly at the heart of every religion – that the song is nothing short of uplifting. Kudos for Max Cohen’s guitar work, Joe Fitzpatrick’s drums, great harmonies by Max Cohen, Kate O’Connor and Rico Spence, and Darby Wolf’s inspired Hammond organ.

 

 

My last three favorites are part of a wonderful Americana trilogy: The Devil and Miss Hattie...The Gambler....and Miss Hattie’s Story. It is the story of a young man who wanders into a nearby tavern after losing all his money to an unscrupulous riverboat gambler. There he meets the young woman who owns the tavern, Miss Hattie, and they fall in love. In each song, Berman tells this story from the vantage point of a different character – the first time, from the young man’s point of view; the second time, from the Gambler’s point of view; and the third time from, from Miss Hattie’s point of view – each time providing a compassionate insight into the character involved (perhaps most of all, the gambler).

Each song in the trilogy stands perfectly on its own, with its own unique melody and musical treatment: Dan Levitt adds a lively banjo toThe Devil and Miss Hattie. Jim Henry adds a rootsy dobro to The Gambler; and Chris Devine brings his heartfelt fiddle to underscore the poignant nature of Miss Hattie’s Story. But taken together, the three songs are all the more wonderful...and the second time you hear each song, it is enhanced by this overview.

Once again, Richard Berman is home now...in the heart.

 

 

Album Review

Richard Berman - You're Home Now

 by Larry Looney
November 21, 2014

 I’ll say up front that I’ve known Richard Berman for many years, and loved his work from the first time I heard him.  His songs are honest and real and come from the heart, painting lyrical pictures of characters that become flesh and blood in the mind of the listener – whether they’re based on ‘real people’ (individuals or composites), characters from stories, or have sprung straight from Richard’s imagination.  Listening to these songs feels like renewing a conversation with an old friend – I’m not sure there’s any higher praise than that, and I give it freely.

The souls that populate Richard’s songs deal with the same emotions, boons and pitfalls as all of us.  Love, loss, joy, sadness, hard times, grief and hope can all be found here.  There are highs and lows to be found in the human spirit – both coming and going.  We deal with them all, and if we set our heart and mind to it, we move on through the lows and bask in the highs.  It’s the points of the journey that lie in between the two extremes that exist in the shadows – and Richard’s songs have a way of leading the listener into contemplation that help pass the time and the miles in a way that, if we allow ourselves to be more open to the world in which we live, help us bear the sorrows long enough to find the joys.

One of Richard’s most moving songs, ‘Holding hands’ (from the album of the same name) finds resolution in the title track of this new release.  It concerns two women, friends of Richard, walking through a Wal-Mart in Alamogordo, New Mexico, holding hands – the reactions from those watching them were sadly predictable, and Richard’s song made note of this and expressed a deep hope that tolerance would grow, and that people would come to accept love in all its forms for the gift that it is.  Their story is continued in ‘You’re home now’, sung here beautifully by Jamie Anderson, a friend of the two women, wonderfully depicting the longed-for acceptance they sought.

In ‘The token of Scotty’s affection’, Richard revisits the game of Monopoly in a way that is wistful but ultimately gently humorous – things change but not necessarily for the worse.  It’s a theme that runs through his work like a gold thread in a tapestry, skillfully woven into the lyrics, sometimes so subtly that we don’t recognize it until we’re really listened – and that’s one of the signs of a great writer.

I’ve heard several of these other songs from Richard in person – ‘Quoddy Point’ (co-written with the fine songwriter Buddy Mondlock), ‘A father and a daughter’, ‘Marianna’, as well as at least a couple of parts of the ‘Miss Hattie’ trilogy.  Like all of Richard’s work, these songs are personal and universal at the same time – he draws them from within, and from life experiences, but presents them in such a way that they are almost instantly recognizable as a part of us.  There’s no pretense or ego driving this music – just honest feelings, heartfelt words and beautiful, memorable melodies.

The production on the cd, by Max Cohen (who also worked with Richard on his ‘Now and then’ album), is just about as perfect as it could be.  The musicians who appear here are well-seasoned, sensitive and supportive, and the arrangements never get in the way of the songs, but compliment and frame them, just as they should.  This is, quite simply, a fine album – it fits nicely with the rest of Richard’s catalogue, and by all rights should find a comfortable and rewarding home in many collections.

Highly recommended.  Richard's music can be ordered through CD Baby or through his own website:

http://richardberman.com/

"Richard Berman is one of the most gifted songwriters I have ever met. With a wry sense of humor, and topics most writers don't dare approach, he weaves through musical genres with a master's touch. Richard's songs defy labels like folk or pop-- they are simply songs you must hear for yourself."

A review of "Dreamer" written for The Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Moshe Benarroch
(moben@internet-zahav.net)

I first heard Richard Berman's song A Love Song in the MP3 CD-ROM, The Best Independent American Music from Songs.com, and a compilation that includes more than 150 songs. I thought Berman's was the best song in it. Considering the fact that this CD included long-time favorites as Richard Dobson, Hugh Moffatt and many others, I was surprised that someone whom I never heard of before had the best song in it.

A Love Song is the opening song on Berman's current release, Dreamer. It is a song about mature love:

Don't waken, it's still early
The room is barely light
I can just make out the boats upon the bay
I used to feel great yearnings
Watching ships sail out of sight
Now my heart's with those that sail this way

This song goes to show how good a lyricist Berman is. His rich and simple imagery makes him one of the best in the field. Everything is said in a modest way. He is not trying to prove he is the best.

There are two kinds of songs on Dreamer. The first is the love songs. They are not about adolescence love; they are middle life songs. The other is the short story song. The vivid imagery in these songs makes them unforgettable. Berman is every bit as good at writing story songs as Richard Shindell, and Shindell is one of the best.

The Fortune Told, is the story of three women who go to see a fortune teller. When the third sits in from of her, the old woman caresses her, and says nice things. At the end she gives her an envelope and asks her not to open it until she reaches her home. She dies in a car crash in the way home, and Berman ends his song with this stanza:

The note was all four words
Never meant to reach her
The note still echoes 'cross the years
It said, "You have no future".

Another unforgettable song is Jacob Weintraub. In it we are introduced to a holocaust survivor arriving in Boston and encountering more anti-Semitism. He hears voices saying:

Don't let him in this country
His people killed our Lord.

By the end of the song, Mr. Wientraub is tired of fights and changes his name to Mr. Winter. He has gone from death in the camp to the long winter of his life. He accepts he won't be happy, but at least he won't hear any more anti-Semitic remarks. This is a protest song at its best; not said in anger but as a prayer.

The music is very acoustic, and mostly intimate, including 2 to 5 players. Violins, violas and clarinets give this CD a timeless and very gentle sound. Berman's voice is like nobody else I have heard. But, if you want to situate yourself, he reminded me of two English singers: Iain Matthews, for his slightly high singing, and more of Billy Bragg, for his talked-sung verses, and also for the way he finishes many of his lines. Berman, of course, is an American and lacks Bragg's English. Sometimes he recalls Jim Henry (who sings harmony vocal in this CD) and Pete Nelson.

Dreamer is Berman's third CD. It follows the 1993 Bittersweet, which was just vocals and guitar, and 1996 Love, Work And Play which sounds very much like Dreamer. I think that Dreamer is his best effort to date, still you can't really go wrong with any of his other CD's. My conclusion is very clear: Berman is the greatest discovery of the year. Every song here is a gem. These are haunted and haunting songs. You will be singing them after two listening. There are no fillers in this 43 minutes CD. Even more, I have a feeling that the best is yet to come. So, if you have any interest in singer-songwriter, folk, expressive singing, or just for someone honest and clear in this world, by all mean buy Dreamer, give this man a chance!!!

Now and Then - songcraft at its best...
                            
Any recording by Richard Berman that you might choose to experience will, without fail, yield well-crafted songs, honestly written from the heart and soul. Every range of human emotion can be found in his work – love, sadness, longing, pathos, humor, contemplation…and more. The lyrics and melodies are incredibly memorable, staying with the listener long after the CD is over – the songs touch on the deepest level, and the subjects they touch upon cry out for further exploration within. I’ve been a fan of Richard’s work for many years – I’ve fortunate to hear him in person several times, and the experience found on his recordings is even deeper in that setting. He can write a love song that will absolutely squeeze your heart – usually not the sort filled with a plaintive longing, but the ones that come from a life-filling, life-long love that has been found, cherished and nourished with dedication and devotion, through smiles as well as tears. ‘There is no gold’, which starts the set, is one of those love songs – Richard sings, ‘There is no gold in your hair, there is no silver on your tongue, no diamonds sparkle ’round your neck – all that glitters you have shunned…It’s said that all good things must end – well I don’t believe that’s true, I believe all good things must change, and I think I’ll change with you.’ There are few songwriters working today that can capture the soul of belonging, the feeling of being a couple, that Richard’s lovesongs can embody. ‘You, me and Bobbie McGee’ employs the famous Kris Kristofferson song as the trigger bringing back a pleasant recollection of a trip with a former lover – snippets of the original song’s lyrics are masterfully inserted into the song, woven into a musical tapestry of memories. It’s a blessing and a gift to recall old loves with such gentle thoughts and wishes as Richard expresses in this song. ‘Anna’ is a song written by Richard many years ago, resurrected at the request of his daughter, and has become a welcome staple of his live performances. The imagery is both delicate and vividly evocative: ‘Often in the afternoon, Anna writes songs in her room – as private as the virgin’s womb, they tell a tale of longing.’ ‘Momma Earth’ is both a lament for the passing of time and a celebration for the life we are gifted, and the changes that time brings. Within its gentle verses you’ll find sweet memories of youth, a plea for Father Time to slow his pace, and the plea of the inner child: ‘There is a child inside of me, he lives just behind most memories. He speaks, his voice is weak, grown fainter over time – “Oh don’t forget me,” he will say, “don’t live out an endless string of days the same, so safe and sane. Go out and take a leap, you’ll end up on your feet”.’ How much good advice all of our inner children could give us, if only we could listen more closely to them! Perhaps the most ambitious – and effective – works on the album are the three songs that make up ‘The prodigal son trilogy’ that end the set. Richard has taken the well-worn (but instructive) story, looking at it from the perspective of the three main characters – ‘The son who stayed at home’, ‘The prodigal son’ and ‘The father’s story’. The son who remained, working on his father’s land, struggles to understand the joy and celebration heaped up his returning sibling – ‘Yes, my brother’s back, as from the dead – my world’s been torn apart, for though I’ll be left my father’s things, my brother has his heart.’ In ‘The prodigal son’, the one who returns is filled with shame and guilt – when his father calls him before him and asks what he has learned from the places he has gone since leaving home, the son bows his head, his thoughts dark, pouring over all of the foolish things he has done, finally replying, in a trembling voice, ‘Father, I’ve learned to treasure in life those precious few who care’. The father rises to embrace his re-found child – ‘My father stood up from his chair and gripped me in a hug – I felt a tear run down my cheek, unsure of whose it was…I could feel how blessed I was to be my father’s son’. The father’s song is a mixture of joy and sorrow, gratitude and regrets – he is overjoyed at the return of his wandering child, but feels guilty when he sees the resentment in the eyes of the son who stayed. He struggles to balance it all, understanding his own failings as well as the love he feels for both of his sons – ‘I think we can be happy in this world in which we’ll dwell, if we can love and forgive each other and ourselves.’ And that’s a lesson we would all do well to consider. Richard is considered by many of his fans to be one of those famously described ‘well-kept secrets’ on the singer-songwriter circuit. It’s time for that secret to be made common knowledge – he’s absolutely one of the finest songcrafters working today. If you’ve never heard him, start here – this is one of his best recordings, with superb musicianship framing his songworks perfectly. From here, get everything you can find by him – and by all means, go and see him perform.