I’ve always liked Cindy Lee Berryhill’s voice and writing style; there’s always been something very soothing and thought-provoking about her music. So it pleases me that after a ten-year hiatus from recording, she’s finally returned with a very strong and powerful new album, The Adventurist. And be aware – those two words – “strong” and “powerful” – will be often used here, as it’s a testament to her will to be able to return to form under very trying circumstances.
The shortest version is that Ms. Berryhill’s husband, famed music writer Paul Williams (founder and critic of the legendary Crawdaddy) suffered a brain injury in 1995; after suffering from early onset dementia in 2004 and a worsening of his condition, he was placed in a nursing home. Mr. Williams passed away in March, 2013 and in a very subtle manner, this new album is her tribute to him. However, while there is a theme in these songs, it’s not an obvious narrative, which makes it all the more interesting.
The opening riff of “American Cinematography” immediately grabs you, as does her impassioned vocal and the entry of strings on the second verse, which help build this track into one of dynamic tension; “Contemplating The Infinite (In A Kiss)” is a sweet, countrified piece delivered in a slightly world-weary manner with Ms. Berryhill’s vocal and the title track, “The Adventurist” is an orchestra-driven piece of quiet, subdued movements that move into Brian Wilson-territory (and it should be noted, amongst the musicians who appear on this album, in fact, include Probyn Gregory and Nelson Bragg of Brian Wilson’s band!) and is a beautiful, complex piece. “I Like Cats/You Like Dogs” is a joyfully clever piece that, to me, is a good way to describe the balances of opposition in relationships; the melody and gentility of “Gravity Falls” makes this one of the most stirring and strongest tracks on the album; the sense of controlled chaos is evident yet never goes too far and “An Affair Of The Heart” is low-key, yet immensely powerful (listen to the string section about 1:33 in) – a song of love lost and longing will always pull at both the heart and the mind, when thinking about one’s own relationships, let alone Ms. Berryhill’s experiences.
I have to give full praise to Ms. Berryhill, who I’ve always viewed as a refined writer, but this album is something of an unexpected masterpiece. It’s one of those works that a writer should be proud to have delivered, regardless of the circumstances. It’s certainly an album everyone can simply take to heart, in both good times and bad.
The Adventurist is currently available