First Look: New Pete Berwick Album

Blurt-approved Nashville rocker kicks asses (and takes no
prisoners) on his upcoming album Give It Time, issued by Shotgun Records.


By Rev.
Keith A. Gordon


I dunno,
just when I think that this whole promising alt-country thing has run its
inevitable course, someone comes along to renew my faith in the ghost of Gram
Parsons. Singer/songwriter Pete Berwick has been walking that Lonesome Highway
by all by himself for more years than he’d probably care to add up, but in the
hallowed tradition of Hank, JC, Gram, and all those other cosmic troubadours
that ran afoul of Nashville’s corporate Music Row and decided to just do the
damn thing their way, Berwick continues to amaze and astound with each new
collection of songs.


I’m proud
to say that Berwick is a friend of mine, and Peter knows me well enough to know
that I’d call bullshit if he dared to deliver anything short of greatness. No
worries, ’cause Give It Time is his latest, a near-perfect
melding of country and rock music, Berwick channeling the reckless energy and
boundless enthusiasm of Hank Williams and Elvis Presley in creating an album
that leans heavily towards the punk side of the cowpunk equation, the singer
and songwriter sounding as pissed-off and proud as any nineteen year old. After
decades suffering the indignities and insults of the music biz, Berwick remains
a streetwalkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm, and with Give It Time he’s once again rolled the
bones and come up with snake-eyes.


album-opening “Renegade” is a defiant statement of purpose, an outlaw
credo delivering with an unimaginable fury that is as hardcore punk in spirit
as anything that you’ll hear from either the punk-rock or alt-country crowd.
With unbridled guitars chomping at your eardrums, syncopated rhythms and fierce
vocals deliver the (autobiographical?) tale of living fast, dying young, and
leaving behind a burned-out corpse. Berwick slows the pace only slightly for
“I Keep Waiting,” an unabashed rocker with a heart of gold, swirling
guitars and bash-crash rhythms creating a disconcerting wall of sound on top of
which Berwick lays down his whiskey-soaked vocals and one of the greasiest,
most fulfilling guitar solos you’ll ever hear. In the distant background, Jason
Botka’s honky-tonk piano-pounding sounds like the din creeping out of a back
alley barroom.


Give It Up” is another crucified rocker that displays Berwick’s deft touch
as a wordsmith, the song’s blistering soundtrack pumped up by Berwick’s
non-stop verbal barrage. Shaking a bloody fist at the record-making
establishment, Berwick spits out muscular lines like “you wanna see scars,
I got ’em”; “the world don’t care if you live or die, one man laughs
while another cries”; and “gotta make a stand for something, ain’t
settling for nothing”; and “tell me are you really satisfied, do you
think that it’s too late to try, maybe for you but not for me…I won’t give it
up!” Nashville’s star-making machinery may have turned its back on Berwick
and his fellow travelers on the fringe of “polite” country music, but
this is one hombre that ain’t going down without a fight, not while there’s
still one last breath and a chance to spit in authority’s face.

Even the ballads on Give It Time (“My Heart Is On Hold”) rattle and clank like rusty machinery beneath
the weight of the songwriter’s angst and frustration. Berwick imbues the song
with so much heartache and anguish that you’ll bury your head under the bedcovers
for a week if you approach the tune without caution. None of the
songwriting-by-committee that creates many of Music Row’s hits these days comes
anywhere close to expressing the sort of emotion and fire that you’ll find in
“My Heart Is On Hold,” the song’s conflicted protagonist turning his
back on love to venture off into the uncertain badlands walked by lonesome
wanderers from Ricky Nelson and Dion to Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle. To
lighten up the load a bit after better than a half-dozen mind-numbing exercises
in seriously heartfelt songwriting, the humorous rave-up “Beer” is a
cleverly glib ode to that golden-brown honky-tonk beverage favored worldwide.


Berwick is
an outlaw and outcast by choice, not by marketing, and the magic displayed by
“Falling From The Circle Of Love” shows that he can write commercial
country fare with the best of ’em…hell, better than just about any of them,
really, and some smart label suit could score a big hit for one of his artists
with this elegant love song. That would make ol’ Pete a bundle of well-deserved
cash, and besides, nobody is going to do the song better, Berwick’s leathery
vocals standing in stark contrast to the song’s elegant construction and
Botka’s wonderful pianowork. “The Sadness In Your Eyes” is another
fine romantic moment, kind of bittersweet and tear-stained but evidence of the
deepness of Berwick’s talent, a Dylanesque ballad with sweeping grandeur and
finely-crafted lyrics that, again, in the right hands, could earn the
songwriter a truck full o’ cash and accolades. Berwick’s breaking-heart
delivery could never be equaled, however, his weathered vocals balanced on the
edge of tears, accompanied by female backing harmonies and a filigree acoustic
guitar solo that is simply outstanding.


Ten songs
in, you figure that Give It Time has
run its course, and you’d be as wrong as you could be to overlook
“When.” This epic stream-of-consciousness rant is Berwick’s “Eve
of Destruction,” his “Jungleland,” his “Positively 4th
Street” all rolled into one massive, monster, six-minute-plus song.
“When” opens with a spacey, almost psychedelic guitar-driven intro
before Berwick’s battered acoustic chimes in and the vocals jump off…”how
long must we wait” Berwick screams towards the heavens. “As the road
goes on and on, how will we know when we are there?” he asks, “time
is a deceiver that’s got us in its grasp.” Hell, Berwick throws out enough
ideas, concepts, and questions in this one tune to fuel six or eight other
songs. Man’s longstanding philosophical conundrums are echoed in Berwick’s
existential “how long must we wait?” In this case, though, the song
only gets stronger, louder, and more strident as it rolls along, Berwick’s tone
growing in urgency, his questions more potent, his anger and frustration more
apparent as the instrumentation swells to a cacophonic assault. It’s like
Berwick’s brain busted open and all the shit that’s been mugging him for years
comes pouring out in one powerful, uncensored blast of white light/white heat.
In the end, no answers are to be had, just a song that is rock ‘n’ roll at its
core, and the nagging, enduring final question “how long must we


A lot of pundits
have spilled a lot of ink (and electrons) talking about the end of the music
industry…well, Pete Berwick is dancing on the graves of all those Music Row
naysayers, and with Give It Time he
takes the D.I.Y. aesthetic to an entirely different level. There are few
artists that will create an album this personal, this emotional, and this
powerful in this year, or any other for that matter…the kids on the indie-rock
tip just aren’t ready and willing to reveal themselves so openly, no matter
what little lyrical clues they send their audience. Give It Time is the real deal, though, a postcard from the edge
from a middle-aged country-rocker who has looked into the abyss and stomped all
over his inner demons, doubts, and frustrations to emerge on the other side
even stronger and more pissed off than before. Let’s hope that Berwick
continues to make music as engaging, vulnerable, and potent as that on Give It Time, ’cause dammit, the man is
speaking for all of us who want, and deserve something better from our
entertainment than Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts.




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