musicHound Folk: The Essential Album Guide (book)

musicHound Folk, 1998
The Essential Album Guide


by Art Wojtowicz 

(Note: asterisks represent stars in a five-star rating system)

The professional accomplishments of Lou and Peter Berryman are numerous, not the least of which is continuing to produce original, highly creative music following their divorce in 1974. The honeymoon is over and both are remarried, but the musical chemistry only gets better with time. The Berrymans offer refreshing observations on the human condition in a style blending folk music with musical comedy. And they manage to translate it all into hilarious songs that have become folk classics, including "Double Yodel," "The F-Word Song," "Your State's Name Here," and "Cow Imagination." The humor draws on Lou's gifts as a melody writer, accordion player, and vocal comedienne, as well as Peter's guitar and vocal skills and extraordinary lyric writing. And to match that, they have successfully self-produced and marketed their own record label since 1974. 

What to buy: As Lou and Peter's wit sharpens with age, their tenth and latest CD Double Yodel (*****) (Cornbelt Records, 1995, prod. Lou and Peter Berryman) is not surprisingly a peach. Their subjects are extrapolations of some of the preciously mundane topics of everyday life, inspired by recipes ("Orange Cocoa Cake") house ads ("New Listing"), endless winters ("Pushing Spring"), and well, even performing music ("Every Week"). Their wordplay is clever throughout, including the beating of a canine metaphor into the ground in "The Dog of Time." And a gentle contrast is provided with "Comes to Mind," a song of child-like wonder. The recording, which features just Lou and Peter without any accompanying musicians, provides a taste of the Berrymans' enchanting concert presence. Witty, innovative, skewed -- Double Yodel is required listening. 

What to buy next: What, Again (****) (Cornbelt Records, 1993, prod. Lou and Peter Berryman) is a nifty set of re-recordings of Lou and Peter's hits from the vinyl years. "Squalor" is dedicated to the fact that Hostess Twinkies have a shelf life of 27 years. "Play it Again" parodies songs like "Hey Jude" that seem to go on forever despite scant lyrical content. "Classified Rag" is dedicated to an ad seen in a laundromat: "Roommate wanted. Prefer Christian, but will accept non-smoker." "A Chat With Your Mother (casually, "The F-Word Song") is described by Pete Seeger as "one of the great American folk songs of the twentieth century." And "Your State's Name Here" generically declares "No sky could be deeper, no water so clear, as back in the meadows of Your State's Name Here." These two delightfully twisted imaginations continue in full bloom with Cow Imagination (****) (Cornbelt Records, 1990, prod. Lou and Peter Berryman). Peter coined the lyrics to "Spring Chicken" on his birthday, insisting the aging process has not yet caught up with him. "Gilda Gray" glamorizes Wisconsin through its famous inventor of the shimmy. "Pass the Pepper" features a long-time couple in a routine dinner conversation -- each self absorbed and not listening to the other. "Handyman" is ironically dedicated to all whose ideal mate would be a great fixer-upper. We Don't Talk About That (***1/2) (Cornbelt Records, 1992, prod. Lou and Peter Berryman) presents a solid collection of originals, showcasing the artists' ascent toward their prime. The title track lampoons the baby boomers' fascination with dysfunctional family issues: "I asked my folks the other day what my shrink asked of me -- Am I the only nut... on the family tree? They said you go tell that shrink... that we're all sane and you became a nut all by yourself." The Berrymans also show wit in handling the male sports ego ("Here's Louie With The Sports") and the standard mid-sized city's answer to urban decay ("A Convention Center"). "Hard Work and Perseverance" presents a joke that Pete Seeger reportedly stole from Carl Sandburg. The liner notes apologize for the necessity of misspelling the lyrics in order to condense them into the confined space of a CD insert. 

the rest: 
Cupid's Trash Truck (***) (Cornbelt Records, 1981) 
So Comfortable (***1/2) (Cornbelt Records, 1984) 
February March (***) (Cornbelt Records, 1986) 
Forward Hey (***) (Cornbelt Records, 1988) 
Your State's Name Here (***) (Cornbelt Records, 1988) 

--Art Wojtowicz

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