Music Review by Lou Wigdor
What, Again, in
I were a music-business reptile, I’d leverage the earning power of
the Berrymans big time. No, Lou and Peter, the future is not in
plastic [that was a reference to The Graduate, not the credit
card-processing equipment that the Berrymans now schlep to their gigs
to facilitate sales of their cds and song books]. The future, I say,
is in resegmenting your market to capture windfall profits from the
healing power of your patter songs and their musical relations. More
on that later. Anyway, under the gentle auspices of the Pioneer
Valley Folklore Society, Lou and Peter swept into Amherst on the
second Sunday evening in May, leaving the Black Sheep Deli coffeehouse
seismically challenged from the barely containable laughter of its
“For us, humor in song is a vehicle for examining largely unexplored stuff,” Peter Berryman insisted during an interview not far from a meat grinder in the Black Sheep kitchen. The performance that evening proved Peter to be a man of his words. The duo explored the proximity of cheese to Wisconsin, a baby boomer’s epiphany on discovering that he is the oldest biped in the supermarket checkout line, a marketing jingle about the Acme Forgetting Service [“Give us a call and we’ll forget it for you”], a wannabe contrapuntal love song extolling the virtues of flowers versus pastries, a brand new tune examining species triage on Noah’s ark (No skroiches! No patangas!), and -believe it or not--nearly twenty others (phew!).
The Berrymans’ eclectic subject matter receives full, tensile support from the music itself. Lou, who lays down an empress-size bed of accordiana beneath and around Peter’s sturdy guitar work, writes all the melodies. Without fail, they dovetail perfectly with Peter’s lyrics. Sometimes, compositions originate with Peter, who sends Lou a verse or two with a dummy melody. But that’s only half the story: “Lately, Lou’s been sending me wordless melodies in midi,” Peter added. (Note: the two have not been married to one another since 1974. Their present musical incarnation as a full-time duo didn’t begin until 1977.)
Lou’s listening habits cover the entire waterfront of musical theater, cabaret, traditional and contemporary folk music, classical art songs, and French musette (Edith Piaf is a favorite.) Peter swears by the Harry Smith Anthology, and listens to a lot of acoustic blues. In the interview, he paid homage to Dylan, Tom Lehrer, Malvina Reynolds, Tom Waits, and Susan Werner. Those influences and many others (You’d need a Peterson Guide to identify them all) come and go in their songs and in performance. Lou’s soprano is a marvel of cabaret elasticity and panache. When a lyric calls for dynamic or melodic emphasis, her voice shifts effortlessly into overdrive. Finally, the Berrymans are unfailing in maintaining the proper propulsion of tempo and internal rhythms. That’s bloody good, considering the nonstop ten-ball juggling act with words.
“Have you seen the CNN piece about those laughing clubs in India?” Peter asked the audience 2/3 of the way through the concert. “The idea is that a whole bunch of folks get together in a room and laugh their asses off for about an hour. It’s good for the spirit and good for one’s health. Scientists, in fact, have shown that one hour of laughter works off about 500 calories,” added the trim, middle-aged Mr. Berryman [Lou is no less the picture of fitness and health.] The Berrymans, of course, need no such justification to get their own mirthful audience with the program.
Considering their extraordinary therapeutic credentials, one bit of advice to the Berrymans gasps for attention: Berrymans, you should be taking the New Age market by storm! Look at the New Age arsenal of spirit-infused body work. Stuff with crystals and oils; exorcising demons from past lives, even gargling with tea. You are a proven commodity. You’ll knock ‘em dead at Naropa. And if you choose to poke fun at your audience through music, you’ll do so gently. You have the rare gift of making people laugh about almost everything without beating up on anyone. Not like that sardonic devil, Randy Newman. The short people hate him, the rednecks can’t stand him, a great number of women would be appalled to have his baby. To date, the New Agers have let their own style of earnestness get the better of laughter. But you will show them the key to the mysteries. And you will laugh all the way to the bank!
|©2002 by Lou Wigdor. Photos by Fred Rosenberg||
Hosted by Pioneer Valley Folklore Society