CINDY LEE BERRYHILL EXPLORES THE ADVENTURE OF LOVE WITH THE ADVENTURIST
Cindy Lee Berryhill marks an affecting, intimate, and dazzling return to record-making with The Adventurist, an ambitious song cycle set for release by Omnivore Recordings on March 10.
Encinitas, Calif.-based singer-songwriter-guitarist Berryhill describes her elegantly crafted set of new original compositions — her first release since 2007’s Beloved Stranger — as a collection of “tone poems about the experiential feeling of enlovement.”
Written and recorded over the course of the last five years and funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign, The Adventurist was co-produced by Berryhill with David Schwartz, Sheldon Gomberg, Ben Moore, and Lee Ray. Contributing musicians include singer-songwriter Syd Straw, Probyn Gregory and Nelson Bragg of Brian Wilson’s band, DJ Bonebrake of X, and David J Carpenter of Dead Rock West.
While it eschews biographical detail or a confessional tone, the album was inspired by Berryhill’s life with her late husband Paul Williams. Founder of the first modern American rock magazine Crawdaddy in 1966 and a prolific writer and critic, Williams married Berryhill in 1997. Two years earlier, Williams suffered a traumatic brain injury in a bicycling accident. Following the early onset of dementia in 2004 and deepening medical challenges, he was placed in full-time care in 2009; he died in March 2013.
Berryhill says, “I vowed to write Paul a song cycle. Not songs of sadness or the despair I’d felt, but songs that reflected the love I had for him, and a remembering back to the enormous flood of feelings we’d had on meeting and courting. I wanted to write songs that felt like they’d come from that muse-driven place we feel when we fall in love.
“It’s about going from the partner you’ve always wanted to be with,” she adds, “to acceptance, and the realization that that isn’t going to be anymore, and the scrambling that happens, and the various levels of grieving, which includes restlessness — ‘I want to run away! I want to get lost in somebody else.’”
Berryhill began writing the songs that were later recorded for The Adventurist in 2011. From the first sessions for the record with David Schwartz in the summer of 2013, Berryhill harkened back to the sound of her widely admired 1994 release Garage Orchestra, which found the onetime “anti-folk” performer delving into a denser, more orchestrated style. Two players from that record, cellist Renata Bratt and percussionist Randy Hoffman, returned for the new collection.
“In some ways you could say that Garage Orchestra, with its orchestral experiments and themes, is directly related to the new album,” she says. “I would offer that they are bookends — Garage Orchestra signifying the beginning of my time with Paul, and The Adventurist being the end of that time.”
Further recording dates followed with Schwartz in Santa Monica, Moore in San Diego, and Gomberg in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake district. The sessions all drew a degree of inspiration from the unusual instrumentation and arrangements and the live-in-the-studio approach heard on Brian Wilson’s groundbreaking ’60s productions for Pet Sounds and the abortive Smile.
“I guess I want things to be more immediate,” Berryhill says. “I really get that old idea, that way of doing it. Something I learned from Brian is that you can have a lot of instruments, but you don’t have to go big. Phil Spector went big with the Wall of Sound. But you can still be intimate and have 14 instruments going.”
The tracks on The Adventurist augment conventional rock instrumentation with strings, horns, vibraphone, glockenspiel, and marimba. In some cases, the idea of conventional “instruments” is dispensed with entirely: Two numbers employ a seven-foot wall heater cover for percussion purposes, while the album-closing instrumental “Deep Sea Dishing” finds Berryhill’s guitar accompanied by a dishwasher.
“Two things happen in a spontaneous setting,” Berryhill says. “Something happens that I didn’t expect — ‘Whoa! That’s a great idea, let’s go with it’ — the surprising interaction that the musicians have, the fun that they have finding something that’s working out. For me, it’s, ‘Is it working or not? I want to know right now.’”
At once musically expansive and close to the bone, reflective and spirited, The Adventurist considers love, loss, and rebirth with melodic acuity, emotional clarity, and warm humor. Berryhill views her highly personal new release as a response to the challenges life handed her.
“My family would say, ‘When the going gets rough, play music.’ I dove really far and really deep into the playing of music, and let the music carry me away. It was my happy place to go to while I went through my daily chores of caring for my husband and my son. It brought me a lot of joy. And it’s an escape — music is the place I go to. It’s the Enchanted Forest.”