AWKWARD STAGE – Bill Berry
by Michael McDowell
Sometimes being a gifted musicologist and/or an academician can have its drawbacks.
While a bit of knowledge is invariably an asset, having a wealth of such acumen at one’s disposal can nonetheless be counterproductive in a variety of ways.
To wit, Burbank, California musicologist, composer and humorist Bill Berry has obviously spent a considerable amount of time and effort in mastering all three disciplines. Throughout his most recent Songwriter’s Square release, Awkward Stage, there are repeated acknowledgements (both expressed and inferred) of the inspiration of such gifted and cerebral musical humorists as Ray Stevens, Stan Freberg, Jack E. Leonard, Al Bowlly, Billy Murray, George Formby, Doctor Hook And The Medicine Show and Tom Lehrer.
In turn, Berry offhandedly either directly name checks or invokes through execution a healthy variety of vaunted and learned musical visionaries. They include Coleman Hawkins, Al Jolson, Ozzie Nelson, Jonathan Richman, the Rolling Stones and Arlo Guthrie.
All of which adds up to a wealth of information which would seemingly be difficult to weave into a single cohesive and accessible effort. Nonetheless, that is exactly what Berry has done here.
Bill Berry has created an instant classic . . . !
– Michael McDowell
With its candid overview of a common cultural impasse, the title track (which opens this ten song collection of originals) does just that, with vivid imagery that is certain to resonate with many. Big Heart follows suit accordingly, with its universal theme of bravado that has been tempered with reality.
Berry’s gift for the highly articulate tale told with candor and levity and signifying much continues unabated in The Piano Tuner With The Lazy Eye. Concurrently, his appreciation for a timely observation is sublimely expressed in the variation on Tom Lehrer’s Fight Fiercely Harvard that is Love Is The New Black. He rises to the occasion even more succinctly with the Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out-inspired Three Girls In A Second Story Window before wrapping up the extraordinary proceedings with the Al Jolson-flavored rallying cry of (You Was) Nobody Then.
While the work of many a stand up humorist that has been committed to record has invariably lost some of its impact with its audience by simple virtue of the fact that the respective punch lines are already familiar upon repeated investigations, the work of many a gifted musical humorist nonetheless endures by virtue of its solidarity with the listener on a variety of levels. In that respect, Bill Berry has created an instant classic that not only stands alongside the works of those vaunted inspirations, but which also provides hope for the disenfranchised demographic which he outspokenly champions. Or in the words of two of this collection’s standout tracks, a Big Heart putting The Brick to constructive use.