Rick Berlin CD reviewed by Nick Blakey

Music Reviews
Rick Berlin CD reviewed by Nick Blakey
Jan 16, 2009, 05:32

Rick Berlin - Old Stag


Where to begin with the one and only Rick Berlin? A Boston music legend who first recorded with Orchestra Luna for Epic Records in 1974 (produced by Rupert "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" Holmes no less), and then went on to lead several other bands (notably Berlin Airlift and The Shelley Winters Project) whilst concurrently doing solo shows, all the while remaining in the Boston metro area. If one wanders down to the legendary political hangout Doyle's in Jamaica Plain, you'll see Rick waiting tables in a blur, discreetly tucking flyers for his upcoming shows under the food bills with a smile. You can also catch Rick in the wee small hours grabbing a night cap at the Brendan Behan pub, also in JP, notorious as the one bar the members of U2 tend to seek out to grab a quick pint in when they find themselves in the town they describe as being "more Irish than Ireland." Imagine the conversations, if you will, that Bono and Berlin could find themselves in…

Old Stag—named after another JP watering hole—is a stunning collection of modern themes and snapshots of Berlin's world. Featuring just Rick and his keyboards, plus some incredibly tasteful and beautifully arranged strings, the album is a spine-tingler evoking a cold and snowy New England night while remaining as cuddly and warm as a heater on full. But don't think for a second that this is a sentimental and polite excursion into modern lounge music—no fucking way. Leave it to a guy in his early 60's to write some of the most in your face, on the edge, thoroughly here and now lyrics regarding everything from straight boys drooling over lesbians and gay men lusting after twinks, race relations, sex, drugs, love, and rock and roll. In one solitary album, Berlin has captured almost everything that encompasses what it is to exist in 21st century New England (even if Berlin's singing voice owes a bit more to the South than North East).

"Happy Lesbians In The Snow," which sadly Tegan And Sara will probably never cover, matches dynamically gorgeous strings with a humorous lyric sung to a tearjerker of a melody, no doubt inspired by something Berlin observed on his way home from Doyle's one night. And in case you ever wondered: "What do they do when they go home?/They lie on the floor with a Labrador."

"How Can I Hate People I Don't Know?" (which Berlin answers with "It's easy: I do it all the time") is also brilliant and probably the most conscious but punk-ass piano bar sing-a-long ever written: "Why do everybody try ta make other people look bad?/Make 'em tall make 'em small call them nigger when you can/You're a faggot, a fatso, you're a fuckin' cunt/It's the same to me, we're all racist pigs, I say…we're sunk…" Genius.

Of a roommate whom he despises, Berlin sings "My roommate Michiko, she doesn't say much, I think I want her out of here/but when I met her, I thought she was really hot/But I was desperate back then, goddamnit, but now I think she's fucking disgusting." "Psycho" features hands down the best opening lines of any song of 2008: "Are you a psycho? Are you weird? You gonna fuck me? Are you queer?/See I've never taken a man home before." "The Fan" is a driving, cacophonous ode to a young rock fan who "Don't read books/don't like TV/watching porn on the internet/biting his fingernails 'til they bleed/Staring at the band/he's their number one fan/they understand." Again you might find yourself laughing as the music makes your hair stand up on end.

In amongst the humor and sharp words are some beautiful and frankly tender love songs, of them "John Lennon's Nose", "Love On A Wire", and "Your Light Is On" ("Are you awake? Are you alone…like me?") really stand out. The album, as a whole, is perfectly balanced and might just make you cry. Realize it's okay if it makes the tears flow, because you'll be giggling again soon enough when the next track starts.

Old Stag was the album of the year for 2008. [Hi-N-Dry]

-Nick Blakey


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