Following the release of "Water In The Barrel," which was inspired by Zen philosophy and the 20th century professor Alan Watts, the Portland-based folk artist Eddie Berman is releasing “The Wheel,” another reflective single that deals with the destructive power of habit energy and the need to reconnect with our own humanity. The song is featured on 'Broken English,' Berman's 11-song suite of campfire-worthy, cosmic folk-rock, out January 31st via Nettwerk Records.
“Even though my new album was written at the end of 2019, before rumblings of Covid hit any headlines, it’s mainly about isolation and disconnection in an increasingly atomized world,” Berman explains. “But this song explores a different kind of separation - a separateness from feeling like a real human being in the real, natural world. The digital hallucinatory experience of everyday-life is so filled with distractions that make you anxious, and anxieties that push you to distraction. It’s hard to remember that I’m an actual living person sometimes.”
“But there are also so many fleeting moments of real presence which I feel too - the damp smell of the Pacific Northwest woods, the eternal sound of waves breaking on the shore, looking in the eyes of my wife, laughing with my kids,” Berman continues. “And so this song is about recognizing that elusive aliveness in yourself and others, and knowing that even though it can become buried underneath miles of algorithmic dread and nightmares of oceans filled with garbage - that aliveness, presence, and belonging is always there and always will be.
Berman made his debut with the EP ‘Blood & Rust,' featuring his duet of "Dancing in the Dark" with British folk icon Laura Marling. His subsequent release generated tens of millions of streams, placements on major Spotify playlists like Your Favorite Coffeehouse, Acoustic Covers, and The Pulse of Americana. It led to nationwide tours with Laura Marling, Tyler Childers, Passenger, and Lee Ann Womack.
Berman had planned to record the album like his previous LPs at the LA studio of longtime collaborator Pierre De Reeder (Mavis Staples, M. Ward), but that went out the window with the global lockdown. So, he learned how to make the album remotely with his bandmates, the multi-instrumentalist Gabe Feenberg and drummer Max MacVeety. Berman has two young daughters, and he describes the extra time with them as an utter blessing in an otherwise difficult year, as he and his wife found ways of using the situation to reclaim some semblances of lost autonomy.
It was in this pure family setting that Berman recorded, seeking out pockets of time when he could jump into the makeshift studio that he’d set up in the nursery to track his instrumental parts and vocals. The result is a powerful, moving, and haunting time capsule of these trying times, written primarily on banjo but performed on guitar. Despite the initial difficulty of adapting to a new approach, Berman grew to value the remote style, which afforded everyone involved a bit more time to focus on their individual contributions. "We only had a few takes of quiet for each track," Berman recalls. "That pressure and restriction strangely give these songs a live feel that's similar to our previous recordings."
'Broken English' is at times quite dark, like the track "Cherokee Rose," a gentle steel-guitar epic partly inspired by the intense Cormac McCarthy novel Blood Meridian. But despite the heavy subject matter, the album is an optimistic one just as well. After all, when you're a parent, you don't have any other choice: "Just having a kid nowadays, you need to have some sense of hope," he says. "These songs are about living with these issues and looking for a way through them."
“The Wheel” and "Water In The Barrel" follow the release of the album's title track, which Glide Magazine called "delicate but commanding," bringing to mind "the folksier studio recordings of the Grateful Dead." "When I wrote the song 'Broken English,' I was thinking about how especially isolated, rootless, and untethered people had become, and that was back in 2019, a good six months before anyone had heard the term COVID," Berman explained. "The past year and a half have put those feelings in hyperdrive."
Berman explains that Anne Dillard's "patient and deliberate thoughts on nature" were a source of inspiration for the new album, helping him focus on the day-to-day—not getting bogged down with the mess of the world that we can't control. "It's a little bit like, are you some flightless bird that's evolved out of the ability to use your wings, and now you're just kind of looking up at the sky, thinking, well, I can't do that anymore?" he puts it. "Or is it something like a circle that's broken, and it's your responsibility to mend it?"
Berman will tour in support of ‘Broken English’ this winter, including a performance at the Portland Folk Festival in January. For details and more information, visit https://eddiebermanmusic.com/
‘Broken English’ by Eddie Berman
2. Skin of the Earth
3. Stay Dark
4. Time Waits For No Man
5. Broken English
6. Dust & Clay
7. The Wheel
8. Cherokee Rose
9. Water in the Barrel
11. Song of Joy