Having a folk-rocker backed by a string quartet (as well as uncredited occasional keyboards) is not new but indeed rare, and that's the venue Rick Berlin chose for Old Stag. Man, was that ever the right decision! He possesses a strong voice easily ranging above the ensemble even at its most evocative, lungs, mind, and heart filled with a burning passion imbued by angst and bitterness, recollection and regret, reflection and hope.
The dramatics of the quartet build and release as Berlin scores sallies against it or climbs atop and shouts but never plays second fiddle, constantly vying and harmonizing. Underground is a bizarre ditty overreaching itself while succeeding beautifully, a very difficult thing to pull off, kinda Tim Hardin-ish at times, then Beatles-esque but much moderner…if that can be said of a band that's antiquarian by nature. Once or twice, I was sure I was listening to a composition Harry Nilsson would've chimed in on.
Old Stag was recorded verite, in Berlin's apartment in Jamaica Plain, Mass., but sounds like a studio gig, so the guy sure as hell knows how to capture sound. The promo claims Berlin played with Orchestra Luna at CBGB's, but I have the Luna LP and he's nowhere on it, so perhaps his band played on the bill *with* them. Makes sense, he's loony, they were looped, and there were a lot of daft groups about back then (Gruppo Sportivo, Sigmund Snopek III, Tin Huey, etc.). Berlin woulda been perfectly at home in that asylum. And, hey, with song titles like Happy Lesbians in the Snow and John Lennon's Nose, well…
…ah, but listen to Michiko and hear a song that far surpasses those strange numbers. No matter how you look at it, though, Old Stag is a can't-miss proposition, particularly if you're weary of the hey-we're-all-normal-aren't-we-? game.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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