Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Rick Berlin started making music in the early 1970s and continued through a handful of bands over the last three decades, including Orchestra Luna, Orchestra Luna II, Luna, Berlin Airlift, Rick Berlin: The Movie, The Shelley Winters Project, and, most recently, simply as Rick Berlin.
As a piano player and songwriter, Berlin's style has run the gamut from the theatrical to the confessional. In several of these incarnations, Berlin came close to breaking it in the music industry, but as he's learned, sometimes the stars don't always align the way they should. During our interview, Berlin takes us through anecdotes about some of these bands and we'll get to hear musical highlights from throughout the years.
Having grown up in New York, I was aware of Berlin's music over the years and learned about his 2006 album Me & Van Gogh from Hi-n-Dry Records from feature articles in The Boston Globe and The Boston Phoenix. His latest CD, Old Stag, was released in 2008.
In many ways, these latest two records and his upcoming project are a third (or maybe a fourth?) act for Berlin’s career and at 64, it’s great to hear him making such intimate, sparse, and powerful music. Berlin is a truly great story-teller songwriter, engaging you in parts of the story without giving it all away.
For fans of Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen, Ben Folds, or Leonard Cohen, Berlin's albums will be a welcome addition to your collection.
Berlin recorded Me & Van Gogh at Hi-n-Dry, the studio and music collective that I’ve featured on Well-Rounded Radio in the past with our interviews with Twinemen, Jimmy Ryan, and Monique Ortiz. Billy Conway, drummer for Morphine, Twinemen, and the Chip Smith Project, co-produced Me & Van Gogh and Tom Dube engineered and mixed it.
Old Stag was recorded in Berlin's living room, with help from sound engineer (and neighbor) Joe Stewart and string arrangements from Brendan Cooney.
Berlin will be performing at the new Hi-n-Dry space at The Somerville Armory on Saturday, May 9th with a string quartet. For more information and to buy tickets, visit Brown Paper Tickets. The concert is a fundraiser for The Mark Sandman Music Project. You can also check for other upcoming performances on Berlin's site.
You can see some video of Berlin on YouTube.
Berlin is also working on a video documentary about our shared home town, Jamaica Plain or JP. Take a look at some clips of Jamaica Plain Spoken on YouTube; Berlin is open to receiving donations to help complete the project.
We recently met at his apartment, down the street from the Brendan Behan Pub, to discuss:
* The various musicians and artists he's worked with while making music over the years.
* How he found himself playing on Mark Sandman’s piano to record Me & Van Gogh with the help of the Hi-n-Dry group
* How he recorded Old Stag at home and on a limited budget, with great results
Songs featured in the interview include:
1) Rick Berlin: House on Fire (Old Stag) (in preview)
2) Rick Berlin: Don't Talk about Joan (Me & Van Gogh)
3) Orchestra Luna: Doris Dreams (Orchestra Luna)
4) Orchestra Luna: Boy Scout Songs (Orchestra Luna)
5) Orchestra Luna: Little Sam (Orchestra Luna)
6) Orchestra Luna II: Greyhound (live) (Special Class)
7) Orchestra Luna II: Dear Kate (Special Class)
8) Luna: Dumb Love (demo)
9) Berlin Airlift: Over the Hill (Berlin Airlift)
10) Berlin Airlift: Don't Stop me from Crying (Berlin Airlift)
11) Rick Berlin: The Movie: Eddy Isn't Coming Home (Filmclip)
12) The Shelley Winters Project: Nothing (Forced 2 Swallow)
13) The Shelley Winters Project: Blood (EP)
14) Rick Berlin: Me & Van Gogh (Me & Van Gogh)
15) Rick Berlin: Rock n Roll Romance (Me & Van Gogh)
16) Rick Berlin: Do You Still Love Me (Me & Van Gogh)
17) Rick Berlin: City is Empty (Live at Jacques)
18) Rick Berlin: Never Stops Raining (Song Saves)
19) Rick Berlin: Unknown Soldier (Old Stag)
20) Rick Berlin: Happy Lesbians in the Snow (Old Stag)
21) Rick Berlin: Your Light is On (Old Stag)
22) Rick Berlin: Michiko (Old Stag)
23) Rick Berlin: Elle (Old Stag)
24) Rick Berlin: How Can I Hate People I Don't Know?
25) Rick Berlin: Walkin' in the Hood (Song Saves)
26) Rick Berlin: Criminal (Me & Van Gogh)
27) Rick Berlin: John Lennon's Nose (Old Stag)