Saturday, May 20, 2023

Album Review: Pete Berwick's The Damage Is Done (2023)

Pete Berwick’s The Damage Is Done
A multi-talented man of the media – singer, songwriter, actor, and novelist Pete Berwick comes to his ‘Outlaw County’ credentials honestly, the Chicago native serving his time in Purgatory (i.e. Nashville) during the Music City’s late ‘80s/early ’90s indie rock boom. Berwick was a man without a country in many ways, however, as the major labels’ narrow vision only saw room for two Gnashville twang-bangers (Jason & the Scorchers, Webb Wilder), completely ignoring Berwick’s songwriting skills and onstage charisma. Not that those other guys were undeserving of their big-league status, but there should have been one more artist on that alt-country Mount Rushmore circa 1990 or so…

Pete Berwick’s The Damage Is Done

Berwick returned to the Windy City and, undeterred by trends, continued to tread the boards with an impressive catalog of releases that includes bona fide country-rock shit-kickers like Just Another Day In Hell and Ain’t No Train Outta Nashville. For his seventh album, The Damage Is Done, Berwick returned to Nashville (or nearby Tullahoma, actually…) and turned the clock back to his 1980s cowpunk roots. Although it has its more traditional country moments – as “traditional” as a born ‘n’ raised rebel like Berwick can get, anyway – much of The Damage Is Done is an unhinged, unbridled, and utterly brilliant rock ‘n’ roll album. The first couple of songs on the album, “She Ain’t Got Me” and “Finger Down My Throat,” burn with the anger and white-phosphorus energy of anything Black Flag or the Dead Kennedys every cranked out, true blue “cowpunk” with the emphasis on “punk,” and we’re all the better for it.

After all, who needs another treacly Music Row release with safe-as-milk lyrics penned by committee; passive, inoffensive production; and music straight from the 1970s performed by aging session drones? Berwick has pulled off a keen trick, indeed, recording a contemporary country album that captures the piss ‘n’ vinegar spirit of early Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings while still managing to channel more righteous anger and angst than a dozen generic SoCal punk rock poseurs. Berwick’s lyrical skills still shine through on songs like the bluesy blue-collar anthems “Time Clock On the Wall” or “Don’t Know How,” but it’s when he truly cuts loose with the evangelical fervor of songs like “You’ll Get Used To It” or the monster title track the that the creative venom shotguns out of your speakers like a firehose.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Berwick’s voice has aged into a dangerous weapon, his raw, whiskey-gutted vocals imbuing each performance with pain and penitence you only earn through decades of hard-won experience. Ashley Argo’s backing vocals provide a sweet counterpoint to Berwick’s sandpaper vox, and Charlie Bonnet III’s flamethrower guitar licks rage through the mix like molten metallic slag. Multi-instrumentalist (and album engineer) Dave Summers picks up the slack with bass, drums, keyboards, and some guitar, and the entire quartet displays an enormous musical chemistry throughout The Damage Is Done, delivering what was needed to support Berwick’s unique vision and performances. As such, Pete Berwick has delivered another career tour de force with The Damage Is Done. If you like your country music with a little rock ‘n’ roll edge, or you like your rock music with a little country twang, you’ll find a lot to like in The Damage Is Done. Grade: A   BUY!

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