The songs of Lou and Peter Berryman have become a legendary institution within the folk music world. Their well-crafted and, more often than not, humorous songs are filled with wit, wisdom and acutely keen observations on life, love and the human condition.
Many a national folk artist will sneak in one or two of the Berrymans’ songs into their set, but none do it more often than Cindy Mangsen and Steve Gillette. “When Lou and I write a song we send it out right away to Cindy and Steve so as they can teach it to us,” Peter confided with a laugh to the Caffe Lena audience last Friday night.
It’s that light-hearted humor that brought a nearly full house of fans to see the Wisconsin-based couple. Unlike the zany comedy or self-deprecating humor that permeates many a Christine Lavin song, the Berrymans’ approach to humor tends to be drier, subtler and so much more real because of their use of characters who are sharing their accounts, rather than the usual folk style sung in the first-person.
In one of the Berrymans’ songs, “Goldrush,” shovelling snow in Vermont is used as a comedic pretext for their protagonist not to go out West to join the Gold Rush of the 1880s. In another, “Artiste Interrupted,” the inability of an artist to decide on what materials, paints, etc. to use to start her art project ends in no work ever getting done. However, it’s in the whimsical words of “I Don’t Believe You Like My Shirt” or the thoughts behind “Does Your Dog Agonize?” that we soon realize that the Berrymans are gently making fun of us or people we might know.
With Lou wielding the accordion and Peter strumming the guitar and both of them singing the lyrical refrain, “When love’s in the air, then you’ll know you’re insane,” from their album, “What Again? Love Is Weird,” you couldn’t help but think about Valentine’s Day, which was right around the corner from their Friday performance.
With their no frills playing, good comedy and plenty of jokes or stories between songs, the Berrymans kept us warm and contented on a cold winter’s night.
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk