Berkley Hart have found something that works. The combination of Kerrville New Folk Songwriter Award winner, Jeff Berkley, and stand-out wordsmith, Calman Hart, creates a pairing that has become one of the premier acoustic duos touring the country. Every Berkley Hart show is packed with entertainment as the duo combines their natural down-home humor with poignant, delicate, masterfully crafted lyrics delivered with stunning harmony and musicianship. Between songs, the obvious camaraderie between these two top songwriters shines as they effortlessly play off each other in what can only be called genuine comedy. Add in virtuoso playing from both Jeff Berkley (guitar) and Calman Hart (guitar, harmonica) and it’s easy to see why the two have become live favorites.
With their 6th studio album, “Crow,” the duo explore the ups and downs of life in song. Much like how the crow symbolizes despair and darkness in some cultures, while in others it is a harbinger of hope and light, this contrast fits the yin and yang of the songs on “Crow” both musically and lyrically, and thus inspired the title. Long-time fans are sure to find Berkley Hart at their best on this album while new listeners will definitely understand why this incredible duo is so admired. “Crow” was nominated for Best Americana Album at the 2011 San Diego Music Awards.
Each of their previous five albums has earned nominations or won San Diego Music Awards (SDMA) and critical acclaim. In their 2009 effort, “Las Vegas,” Berkley Hart explored the sonic landscape as it relates to absence, love, loss, religion, redemption, and the power of rock and roll wrapped around the duo’s unique twists of observation. The North County Times said the record was “A throwback celebration of the glories of harmonized vocals, San Diego’s Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart are such gifted performers that they instantly elevate any song they touch. Soaring vocals in the model of Seals and Crofts or Loggins and Messina combine with virtuosic playing on guitar to create that elusive sense of magic that most bands never manage.”
Their previous album, 2006’s “Pocket Change,” was dubbed by the San Diego Troubadour as finding the duo “at its best, combining poignant lyrics with masterfully crafted melodies and harmonies. It captures their live sound in its purest form: two guys, two guitars, and an occasional harmonica or banjo.”
Prior to that, their third album, “Twelve,” released in 2004, was self-produced and recorded entirely in a home studio. The album received an SDMA for Best Americana Album. The All Music Guide noted, “’Twelve’… reveals that [Berkley Hart] know how to create appealing, harmony-rich country-rock songs. In fact, this disc…feels like an excellent calling card for Nashville.”
In 2002, the duo released “Something To Fall Back On,” which received that year’s SDMA for Best Adult Alternative Album. For that album, Relix Magazine proclaimed, “The band infuses its rich, harmony-laden songs with strains of bluegrass, folk, country and rock…while…their solid and finely-crafted songs are a good melding of yesterday and today.”
And their debut album, 2000’s “Wreck ‘n’ Sow,” was a critical success out of the box that won that year’s SDMA prize for Best Local Recording, and took home the coveted Best New Artist trophy to boot. SLAMM magazine said, “Sometimes an album surfaces that is so emotionally and musically authentic that it crumbles resistance to its genre.”
Both Berkley and Hart emerged from the Southern California coffeehouse circuit, each building sizeable followings of their own before joining forces. As a duo for more than ten years now, they have become fixtures on the folk circuit, making appearances at the Kerrville Folk Festival, as well as playing some of folk’s most prestigious venues including The Birchmere and The Bluebird Café. In 2005, they staged the first “O Berkley, Where Hart Thou?” a mulit-artist extravaganza that features music from the film “O Brother Where Art Thou?” and other ‘old-timey’ tunes. With a DVD of the first show available, Berkley Hart have since presented 4 additional shows, featuring different performers. The latest performance, in September, 2012, was a sold-out affair to more than 800 people at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts.
Additionally, the duo continues the “Berkley Hart House Concert Revolution.” They ask fans to host an annual Berkley Hart show in their own homes and invite the people they know. They’ve played hundreds of house concerts not just in San Diego, but around the country, and have helped establish some now well-known series.
For more information, please visit www.berkleyhart.com.
NOMINATION: BEST AMERICANA ALBUM for "Crow," 2011 San Diego Music Awards
NOMINATION: BEST AMERICANA OR COUNTRY ALBUM for "Las Vegas," 2009 San Diego Music Awards
WINNER: BEST ACOUSTIC ACT, 2007 San Diego HAT awards (Honoring Acoustic Talent)
NOMINATION: BEST AMERICANA OR COUNTRY ALBUM for "O Berkley, Where Hart Thou?", 2007 San Diego Music Awards
WINNER: BEST AMERICANA ALBUM for "Pocket Change," 2006 San Diego Music Awards
WINNER: BEST AMERICANA ALBUM for "Twelve," 2004 San Diego Music Awards
WINNER: BEST ADULT ALTERNATIVE ALBUM for "Something to Fall Back On," 2002 San Diego Music Awards
WINNER: BEST LOCAL RECORDING for "Wreck n Sow" and BEST NEW ARTIST, 2000 San Diego Music Awards
Mainstage Showcase performances:
Venues' Choice Concert, FAR West conference (Folk Alliance Region West), October 2012 (Irvine, CA)
Kerrville Folk Festival, May 2012 (Kerrville, TX)
American River Music Festival, September 2010 (Lotus, CA)
Kerrville Wine and Music Festival, September 2010 (Kerrville, TX)
FAR West conference, November 2009 (Irvine, CA)
Kerrville Folk Festival, May 2009 (Kerrville, TX)
Southwest Region Folk Alliance, October 2008 (Austin, TX)
North American Folk Alliance conference, Feb 2006 (Austin, TX)
FAR West conference, October 2005 (Woodland Hills, Ca)
North American Folk Alliance conference, February 2004 (San Diego, CA)
Kerrville Folk Festival, May 2004 (Kerrville, TX)
Jeff Berkley - Guitar
Calman Hart - Guitar, Harmonica
Las Vegas (2009)
Winter Wonderland holiday single (2006)
O Berkley, Where Hart Thou? DVD & CD (2006)-live concert performance with special guests including the 7th Day Buskers, Eve Selis, Gregory Page and more.
Pocket Change (2006)
Something to Fall Back On (2002)
Wreck n Sow (2000)
House Concert Reviews
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"Once again, thanks a million. It was a perfect show...well-paced, great intros, the perfect balance..."Once again, thanks a million. It was a perfect show...well-paced, great intros, the perfect balance of laughs and tears. And our crowd loved you and had a great time." - Janet Pogue Hans, Urban Campfires, San Antonio, TX
"Berkley Hart continues to be one our favorite acts. We'd host them any time. We love them and we love their music. Our audience is always asking for when we will be having them back." - Russ & Julie Paris, Russ & Julie's House Concerts, Oak Park CA
O Berkley Where Hart Thou? A Joyous Celebration of American Roots Music
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Beauty and truth are timeless; they never go out of style. Great art seems to break the bounds place...Beauty and truth are timeless; they never go out of style. Great art seems to break the bounds placed on lesser creations. Tidy classifications of genre and style fade in the bright light cast by masterpieces. Out of the unique American musical vernacular came the tap roots of blues, jazz, gospel, folk, country, and rock. O Berkley, Where Hart Thou? celebrates those roots. Who knew that eternal transcendence could pour forth from a five-string banjo, a flat-picked guitar, a low-slung fiddle, and a slapping upright bass?
San Diego folk icons Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart are again gathering together their talented friends on the Poway Center for the Performing Arts stage to perform O Berkley, Where Hart Thou? Riffing on the Coen brother’s film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? the all-star line-up includes Shawn Rohlf and the 7th Day Buskers, Dennis Caplinger, Robin Henkel, Gregory Page, Steve Poltz, Lisa Sanders, Jeffrey Joe Morin, Robin Adler, Cathryn Beeks and Matt Silvia, the Lovebirds, Tom Brossseau, and the Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church Youth Choir to render songs from the film’s best-selling soundtrack as well as other songs of the period.
“O Berkley, Where Hart Thou? has been an amazing way for us to showcase the treasure chest of talent that’s always on display in San Diego for folks who may or may not be aware of it,” says Jeff Berkley. “Audiences always come away energized for having discovered this gem of a show! That’s what’s fun for me is getting to help show off my friends and colleagues!” Folk music is, after all, alive and well here in San Diego. And whether you call it folk, bluegrass, Americana, or roots, one thing is clear. It’s damn good stuff.
“September is the time when Poway celebrates its history with parades, the rodeo, street fairs and more. We thought “what better way to join in the celebration of the City in the Country than San Diego folk, country, and bluegrass musicians recreating the Academy Award-winning soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?” states Michael Rennie, POW! Foundation Executive Director.
On Saturday, September 22 at 8pm the Poway Center for the Performing Arts will be transformed into an Appalachian back porch. Also on hand will be the just released DVD/CDs of the original O Berkley, Where Hart Thou?, recorded before a packed house at the inaugural show.
In the late 1990s, Ethan and Joel Coen began conceiving a film project around an unusual idea. They wanted to film a new version of Homer’s Odyssey, set in the American South of the 1930s. An unusual melding of two classic eras — ancient Greece and the Depression-era South — called for an unusual approach. Typically, music is added to a film at the end of the process. But before the Coen brothers wrote or shot one scene, they hired T-Bone Burnett to record the soundtrack. Using field recordings and a core group of musicians to create new material, Burnett created a powerfully moving musical experience.
With Burnett’s soundtrack playing in their headphones, the Coen brothers set out to write and shoot the film. The soundtrack became a surprise best seller with the single “Man of Constant Sorrow,” even garnering extensive radio play on top-40 country stations, including local station KSON. Some even credit the success of the soundtrack with paving the way for a resurgence in alt-country and Americana artists like Allison Krauss and Union Station, Gillian Welch, and a host of others. But one thing is sure. The success of this music proves that there is a hunger out there for heart-felt, simple, true American music, something that Nashville stopped providing decades ago.
Serving as “house band” for the evening, Shawn Rohlf and the 7th Day Buskers bring the authentic roots feel and masterful chops that the material so dearly requires. According to Rohlf, this music matters because “it seems to go deeper than my ears. I can feel it in my bones. I hear my ancestor’s pain and struggles as they crossed an ocean and braved the elements to find a new life. I feel the excitement and joy of dancing on the front porch to the banjo and fiddle after working from dawn till dusk. There was no Hollywood glamour, no MTV, no CD sales or Grammy awards to complicate, sterilize, and exploit this music. It was simply played to entertain, comfort, and pass along some history to the next generation. We are so far removed from that today.”
For Berkley Hart, the real strength of the show is the camaraderie the musicians share. Gathering around one or two microphones, just like they used to do in the 1930s, keeping it lo-tech and hi-warmth, makes the magic happen. “Getting everyone together is the real prize for me,” says Berkley. “It’s a party and a half. The audience feels it, we feel it, and it goes with us when we leave.”
Everyone involved feels the same way about the music and its timeless relevance. And that’s what sets this show apart from the flurry of other tribute shows that have come along in recent years. For these artists, this music has been the heart and soul of the inspiration for their own songwriting. “It’s meant everything to me to go to school on this music,” says Berkley. “It’s infused in everything I do.” Listen to any of the original recordings of Berkley Hart, Eve Selis, the 7th Day Buskers, Tom Brosseau, Robin Henkel, Lisa Sanders, Gregory Page, and the rest of them, and you’ll hear the ghosts of American music brought to life. This show is so much more than just a cover band party. There is an almost religious reverence to this show. Maybe it’s the innate spirituality of the material itself and the way it illuminates the darkest corners of the soul with the possibility of redemption and salvation.
What strikes you first when you listen to this music is its naked intimacy, honesty, and fearlessness. Willing to grab the devil by the horns, these songs spread a healing balm over the existential wounds of loneliness, poverty, death, and despair. Hear Ralph Stanley’s “O Death” and feel the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Feel the cold darkness slide through your veins when you hear “I Am Weary (Let Me Rest),” a mournful lament sung by a dying child to her grieving mother. Feel the relief of the belly laughs as you hear the classic hobo fantasy “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” with its cigarette trees, lakes of stew, and chickens that lay soft boiled eggs. Weaving sorrow and joy together in a life-like tapestry that wraps around an audience like a warm embrace, music like this, performed by artists like this, make you remember why you fell in love with music in the first place.
Performed “Grand Ol’ Opry style” – with vocalists and acoustic instruments circled around a shared microphone – O Berkley captures the pure, organic beauty of these timeless classics with minimal embellishments. In 2005, the duo staged the first O Berkley, Where Hart Thou? The DVD/CD of that first show was nominated for Best Americana or Country Album at the 2007 San Diego Music Awards (SDMA). Berkley Hart have since presented three additional shows, featuring different performers. Following sold out performances at a 400-seat Encinitas Church in 2006 and again in 2009, the show was ready to move to a larger venue. Now this grand-daddy of all theme shows has found a new home at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts.
If you had the misfortune of missing the previous productions of O Berkley, Where Hart Thou?, here’s your chance for redemption. For tickets and further information, visit www.berkleyhart.com, www.powayarts.com
Crow CD review
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After nearly 12 years playing together, with five previous award-winning studio CDs, local Americana...After nearly 12 years playing together, with five previous award-winning studio CDs, local Americana veterans Berkley Hart are back with Crow, and their latest album offers the kind of music for which they have become known. There are the laid-back, personal stories of Calman Hart, delivered in his smooth, folksy, talking-blues style. Jeff Berkley has more of a rasp in his voice that can add some country smoke to the occasional song that gets a full-band arrangement. But the reason for their success is the ability to step beyond these obvious strengths and write engaging songs that make full use of their warm harmonies and expert, primarily acoustic musical accompaniment.
“Little Boxes” is the only cover among the dozen songs here, and this early-sixties satire of consumer culture by Malvina Reynolds fits the duo’s harmonizing style nicely. Hart weaves a tale of family life and relationships, “My Name is Sam,” observing the circle of life from family dog to hospitalized grandpa with touching lyrical statements. (No lyrics for the new CD on their website yet, but all of their other discs’ lyrics are there). “I Still Dream in California” has a country-rock feel, with pedal steel, banjo, lots of keyboards, and electric guitar. Berkley is singing over the big production, “Though I meditate on the Western gate/ I only visit in my head.”
The two flash their versatility on “Barn Sour Horses,” an imaginative Hart tune that tells of his crumbling home town, with the lingering “old men, old dogs, and old Chevrolets.” The riveting musical framework for the tale is a Middle-East-influenced, droning raga that uses Berkley’s banjo to create oud and sitar effects, and nice work by John Mallander on violin playing exotic Eastern modes and scales on a tune that is a creative triumph and highlight. Another great track is “Up the River”; it has a super hook, a moody, harmonized vibe and great percussion touches that give it depth.
Berkley recorded the new disc in his studio; his skills as a studio musician shine throughout and the vocals and guitars are superbly recorded. The separation and mix sounds like the band is sitting in the listener’s room, including session men Barnaby Finch and Ben Moore on keys, upright bassist Doug Walker, Mailander, and others.
Two folk songs use lyrical imagery to tell tales of life’s ironies: “No Place Like Home” is a quiet ballad from the viewpoint of a young girl who mentally flees her loveless family situation by clicking her heels, hoping to be transported to somewhere that is not like her home. Then, Berkley warns an approaching lover to slow things down in “Stay Away a Little Closer.” A country swing treatment helps “Not My Heart” score, as Berkley plays dobro and sings about giving up your car and home, but keeping what’s important.
Crow is excellent Americana music from a pair of musicians that have shown the ability to sustain this level for years. For fans, it will not disappoint; for new listeners: try it, you’ll like it.
- Frank Kocher
Las Vegas CD review
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San Diego singer/songwriting duo Berkeley Hart have honed a winning sound on four CDs since talented...San Diego singer/songwriting duo Berkeley Hart have honed a winning sound on four CDs since talented Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart joined together over a decade ago. The pair can play and sing in almost any style and are both excellent songwriters and singers. Their last CD, Pocket Change from 2005, was acoustic, highlighted by unadorned arrangements, perfectly blended harmonies, and vivid lyrical tales as the focal points. They have paired again for a new disc, Las Vegas.
The sound on the new disc, produced and mixed by studio whiz Berkley, features more instrumentation than Pocket Change but wisely features a similar, intimate, unhurried sound. The songs are observational tales of human beings: their failings, relationships, and occasional spiritual struggles.
"Conversations with the Moon" starts off and sets the tone for what is to come, as Berkeley's soft folk song combines shimmering keyboards, finger-picked guitar, and swelling harmony choruses. Two Hart tunes follow, the lyrical storyboard "She's So Beautiful" and "Hey, Darlene" The latter is Appalachian-flavored, with a catchy hook brought home with banjo, dobro, fiddle, and plenty of twang about kinfolk coming over and putting momma's ashes on a shelf. The title tune is a country ballad, a highlight co-written by both artists, with steel guitar sighing behind lyrics like "She was a dancer, Las Vegas show/ She moved through me like cancer, subtle and slow".
The two rock things up on "Misery," with a bluesy brew of drums and guitar. Different than the rest of the disc, the tune is memorable and fun. "Sliver" is an acoustic folk tune about Berkeley's childhood, again with strong imagery. Hart chronicles the spiritual odyssey of a flawed man with "Looking for Jesus Again," another example of combining great lyrics ("He's been reading the Bible like it was a mystery novel"), a memorable melody, and a crisp arrangement. Berkeley follows with "Scarlet," a folk tune about a girl who was named after a Grateful Dead song. A folk-style arrangement of Bob Marley's "Stir It Up" works surprisingly well as the close harmonies and uncluttered percussion convey a relaxed flavor to the original reggae classic.
This is a disc that features carefully composed songs that are personal and engaging, drawing the listener into the music for the duration of the experience. There isn't a wasted note anywhere.
Hart tells another spiritual parable with "God in a Drawer," with observations about today's brand of religious hypocrisy, without preaching. "Six More Hours" offers sweet harmonies wrapped around finger-picked figures, to quietly close things as the singer is on the road to his California home.
Las Vegas is a superb and engaging collection of songs by two artists who are hitting on all cylinders, and not to be missed by lovers of great roots music.
by Frank Kocher
Las Vegas CD review
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A throwback celebration of the glories of harmonized vocals, San Diego's Jeff Berkley and Calman Har...A throwback celebration of the glories of harmonized vocals, San Diego's Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart are such gifted performers that they instantly elevate any song they touch. Soaring vocals in the model of Seals and Crofts or Loggins and Messina combine with virtuosic playing on guitar to create that elusive sense of magic that most bands never manage.
And yet, there's also the nagging feeling that the duo have yet to produce a song that's the equal of their talents. On their latest CD, every track is lovely and listenable, but the only song likely to get stuck in your head for days on end is their relaxed cover of the Bob Marley song "Stir It Up" ---- although it owes far more to Johnny Nash's hit version.
Their own songs are pleasant enough, but not the kind of instantly immortal tunes that could push them onto the national stage. There's no "Summer Breeze" to be found here, no "Danny's Song." Their title song, "Las Vegas," is notable both for its gentle melody and its pure honky-tonk arrangement, breaking from their usual folk-rock approach.
Not that an album full of gorgeous playing and singing is to be sneezed at ---- it's just that listening to the very pure magic to be found here leaves one feeling that these two men could be on the verge of something even greater, with material to match their ability as performers.
---- Jim Trageser
"San Diego's Finest on the Beat"
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There would be a major void in the San Diego music scene without Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart. Their...There would be a major void in the San Diego music scene without Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart. Their work together, as solo artists and with literally dozens of area artists, has enriched many concerts and more than a few albums.
The fact that their 10th anniversary concert Saturday night at AcousticMusic San Diego appears to come a year early might be an issue, except that musicians this gifted should be celebrated at every opportunity. A former rock drummer, Berkley sings and writes better than most drummers not named Levon Helm or Don Henley. Hart is an equally gifted tunesmith who sings and writes with insight, grace and an ability to make something fresh of even life's most familiar events and archetypes.
Berkley, who grew up as the son of a traveling evangelist, cut his teeth in various alt-rock bands here before becoming an in-demand percussionist for Jewel, Lisa Sanders, Gregory Page and other leading lights of San Diego's fertile singer-songwriter scene in the 1990s and beyond. His evolution into a singing frontman was aided greatly by the fact that he has one of the best voices in town. He's good enough that, in 1999, he won New Folk Songwriter honors in Kerrville, Texas, an honor previously bestowed upon Lyle Lovett, Sean Colvin and San Diego's Joel Rafael.
Hart, a Utah native, has held his own alongside such nationally prominent musicians as dobro master Jerry Douglas and national fiddle champ (and ex-San Diego bluegrass mainstay) Stuart Duncan. His 1992 solo debut album, “Red-Eyed and Blue,” was a cathartic work by a recently divorced musician who turned his pain and loss into a collection of heartfelt songs, and Hart's only improved since then.
Berkley Hart have made four terrific albums. While both are experts at using a recording studio to layer their music, their most affecting album is last year's “Pocket Change,” an earthy, no-frills duo outing that was recorded quickly and with a minimum of overdubs. No doubt, they'll be joined by some special guests Saturday night, but they'll need no help to charm their listeners.
"Berkley Hart Celebrates a Decade of Harmony"
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All great partnerships have one thing in common: a shared realization that the sum is stronger than ...All great partnerships have one thing in common: a shared realization that the sum is stronger than the parts. In the mysterious space between partners a spiritual alchemy occurs. In the emptiness between egos, there is room for the manna of heaven to pour down and fill in the serrated edges between souls, binding two together in a strength not attainable within a single individual. Over the years a potent dialectic emerges. You unconsciously adapt your strengths to the other and, like the ocean and the shore, you form a perfect harmony where your beauty only enhances the beauty of the other. You become each other's teacher, therapist, cheerleader, and, depending on what part of town the show is in tonight, bodyguard.
Great partners have to have a lot in common, but they need to challenge and push each other as well. Most often, songwriters and artists of all stripes work within the stillness of their own solitude. In the push and pull of a great partnership, however, the wheat has a much better chance of separating from the chaff. There's even a hint of competition, not the destructive kind, but the kind that impels each partner to his or her best work, if only to keep up. You have too much respect for your partner to turn in anything other than the best.
It's been ten years now since Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart decided to cast their lots together, but they've known each other for longer than that. Their paths first crossed at the legendary Java Joe's in its first incarnation in Poway. It was the mid-1990s and the fertile San Diego singer-songwriter scene was starting to heat up. John Katchur introduced Berkley to Hart. If Katchur is the Moses of the folk scene, leading us all out of the wilderness, then Berkley and Hart are David and Solomon, establishing a solid temple of folk around which so many San Diego notables have orbited.
In the early years Berkley was best known for his percussion work, most notably his spot-on and much sought after djembe playing. He's on pretty much every folk record that ever came out of this town and for good reason. The man has more heart, soul, and feel in his little finger than most musicians have in their entire body. But he was also a singer-songwriter, and while he was often asked to sit in on djembe with everybody in town, only a few of the artists he backed had the sensitivity and grace to ask him to play some of his own songs : artists like Dave Howard, John Katchur, and Calman Hart.
Hart heard something special in Berkley's songs and suggested they start doing some shows together. Their voices were a surprisingly warm fit and their guitar playing styles formed a perfect counterpoint. Hart's plain-spoken prairie strum lays a seed bed out of which the vines of Berkley's ascending and descending DADGAD lines emerge, winding like Mulholland Drive through Laurel Canyon, like smoke from a pipe, like prayers through the heavens, mesmerizing audiences and reminding many people of another great pair of guitarists: Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia.
Soon they began writing together. Hart's songs tend to be story songs with linear narrative and sharply drawn characters. Berkley favors impressionistic non-linear portraits of sensual and emotional terrain as seen from a bird's-eye view : broad images and distant longings flowing through timeless dreamscapes. Put these two approaches together, and you get an amazingly rich palette from which to paint folk songs, startling for their clarity, depth, power, and beauty. But writing songs together is the high-wire act of songwriting. It's one thing to lock yourself in your room and draw a song out of the depths of your own psyche, but to risk the delicacy of the process by bringing in another person, another whole set of experiences and expectations and aesthetic standards : that takes courage and faith. But Berkley and Hart have that kind of trust. They bring their musical ideas to each other and expect great things to happen. And they almost always do. 'Co-writing is hard for me,' admits Hart, 'because it's a struggle to get into my creative space with another person around. However, when it clicks, it's great. Some of my favorite songs are Berkley Hart co-writes.'
'Ultimately, co-writing works really well for us,' adds Berkley. 'I generally have a riff and a chorus and Calman will add verses. He's great at verse writing. I love that. I feel strongest coming up with musical hooks and writing choruses and bridges. That was one of the ways the sum was stronger than the parts. We both excel at different parts of the song. Our co-writes are my favorite songs.'
In 1999 Berkley and Hart joined forces with John Katchur and Dani Carroll, another up-and-coming singer-songwriter, to form the Redwoods. Soon they were wowing audiences with the depth and breadth of their live performances. Katchur's top-tier lead guitar work, Berkley's percussion, Hart's and Carroll's guitar stylings and voices, rendering each other's songs with delicate yet powerful strokes : the Redwoods packed houses and raised the bar for all other folk artists. That same year Hart suggested that Berkley submit one of his songs to the country's most prestigious folk songwriting competition, the Kerrville Folk Festival's New Folk Emerging Songwriter contest. 'I thought he was crazy,' said Berkley. 'I mean Kerrville is a huge deal that was started 35 years ago by Peter Yarrow [of Peter, Paul and Mary] and has a long list of past winners like Shawn Colvin, Lyle Lovett, David Wilcox, Nancy Griffith, Joel Rafael, the list goes on - .' Hart persisted, Berkley entered, and, surprise! He won. To this day, Berkley's most requested song is his Kerrville winner 'High School Town.' The Redwoods went to the festival and performed that year. 'It was an amazing experience,' said Berkley, 'and something we'll always remember.'
Soon thereafter John Katchur and his wife moved to New Zealand and Dani Carrol moved to Nashville. Berkley and Hart decided to put their last names together and make it official. After a long gestation period, Berkley Hart was born. 'It's really rare to find two folks who have the same kind of ideas about writing and performing, how to craft and edit a song, and how to lead an audience through a show,' Berkley said. 'We both had the same instincts and our voices fit so great together.'
For both Hart and Berkley, the best part about being a musician is that moment in the middle of a song when it's going really well, and the crowd is hushed and riveted, and the room falls away leaving only a nameless, sacred, intangible connection that draws everyone into a shared, communal reverie. 'It took a while to learn how to make that happen,' said Berkley, 'but now it's so completely satisfying to have success in this area.' Where does this magic come from? What is it? Jeff takes a deep breath. 'I don't know,' he said. 'There is some shared force in the universe. Some call it God, some call it Great Spirit, some call it rock and roll. Something happens in a room when a group of people gather to create and experience something together. It happens in theaters, concert halls, stadiums, amphitheaters, churches, nightclubs, bars, and coffeehouses everywhere. A collective trip of some kind. It sends shivers up my spine when we all hit it together at a gig. There is a lift-off feeling. I can see it happen to people's faces and I feel it in my own heart at the same time.'
'It's electric,' said Hart.
'And we've finally learned how to create that feeling,' Berkley continued. 'It's like being Merlin or something, but it has nothing to do with me, or with us. We're caught up in it just like the audience is. It's something that honest, pure art creates in the beholder and the artists. It's better than any drug.'
With four Berkley Hart albums behind them and countless shows all across the country, Berkley and Hart bring years of experience to everything they do. What advice do they have for young singer-songwriters coming up? 'Be true to who you are and don't get caught up in all the trappings of the music business,' said Berkley. 'That will work itself out if you do what you know is real and right.'
'And don't try to write what you think other people want to hear,' added Hart. 'Write and play songs that make you happy. That way, if you get lucky and catch a wave, you won't get stuck playing music you don't like for the rest of your life. And if you don't get lucky, you won't have wasted your time sacrificing your art trying to please other people.'
Being a musician can wear you down. You're only as hot as your last gig. Essentially, you're perpetually unemployed until you can put the next tour or house concert or recording session together. Sometimes you draw a packed house, sometimes not so much. Self doubt, envy, anxiety, compulsion, exhaustion, and other demons in a performer's life rarely leave you alone for long. Rapacious promoters, false promises, and empty threats are the norm in the music business. It's hard on family and on relationships, it's financially challenging, and it can unravel the hardiest of souls. In spite of all these challenges, Hart claims immunity. 'I find it easy to stay positive,' said Hart. 'Having anyone want to hear us play original music, whether it's 30 people or 300, is a gift.'
Berkley, on the other hand, admits it isn't always easy. 'You don't always stay positive,' he said. 'We just try and get positively motivated by the bad stuff. Make it your goal to create something positive out of the negative. It works!' But then he admits, 'I'm real bad at getting to that point. It's the hardest part of our job as artists: keeping up the force field while letting folks in. Everybody does it differently, but you have to figure out how to beat that negative stuff to succeed, both as a human being and as an artist. I fight it every day.' 'Being away from loved ones is for sure the hardest thing about being a musician,' Berkley adds. 'The second hardest thing is dealing with the music 'business' and all the weird stuff that goes with it. It's just not in my nature to know what to do next business-wise and very often the folks who know what to do in the business world are not real patient about what needs to be done artistically. We've had our biggest challenges in this department.'
But Berkley wouldn't change a thing. 'I honestly just love the lifestyle of a musician. I think I feel strongest when I'm on tour, racing from gig to gig to airport to hotel to meal to gig. Passport in pocket, flight cases in rental car, clothes in suitcase, sleep deprived, still high from the music the night before, and carrying that spirit to the next show - it's in my DNA. I can't live without it.'
Berkley applies his long-time love affair with music and his road-tested expertise on a daily basis in his recording studio, Miracle Recording. Though he's been involved in the recording process for 23 years, his own studio had its official launch in 2003 with Berkley Hart's award-winning album Twelve. Since then Berkley has produced, engineered, and mixed dozens of albums for other artists, bringing that warm, burnished, or, as he likes to call it, 'furry' sound to a who's who of bands.
With ten years gone and their whole lives ahead of them, Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart show no signs of slowing down. They've struck a nice balance between family and career, and they've successfully negotiated the pitfalls of the music business with their artistic integrity intact. A triumph of simplicity over artifice, the long-lived career of Berkley Hart deserves celebration.
- Peter Bolland
Pocket Change CD release show review
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Thank God for songwriters. It all starts with the song. A great song can take a mediocre performer m...Thank God for songwriters. It all starts with the song. A great song can take a mediocre performer much farther than a great performer can take a mediocre song. The song is the life's blood of every performance. It's the song that touches the heart of the audience. Yes, it's all about the song. That being said let me talk about San Diego songwriters Calman Hart and Jeff Berkley.
Last month I was invited to Berkley-Hart's CD release party celebrating the release of their fourth album, a worthy effort called "Pocket Change". I love good songwriting and couldn't wait to see what these guys had come up with. Myself being somewhat of a reluctant songwriter, meaning I write but it usually doesn't come fast or easy, I appreciate the efforts of the ones who do make it look easy.
As I walked across the parking lot of the Seaside Church in Encinitas I noticed a crowd already assembled for the show. It was a crowd representing all ages from young children to what appeared to be their grandparents and everyone in between.
It was a full house. The instant the lights dimmed the crowd erupted into enthusiastic applause. These people have probably seen B-H countless times and were more than ready for this gig to begin. Ahh, new songs. Remember? It's all about the song...
B-H walked on stage and opened the show with an instrumental. How's that for the element of surprise? These songwriters came out and kicked things off with an instrumental! It's okay, because you know what? These guys can play. Jeff Berkley has a phenomenally tasteful touch on guitar and seems able to send any lick in his mind down his arm, through his fingers and make the guitar a welcome receiver. How do guys like this do it? Wish I knew. Anyway, next the storytelling began.
Both Jeff and Calman's songs are extremely personal and meant to connect with the listener on an intelligent level, with a flair of comedy at the same time. Calman's songs are blessed with solid hooks worthy of commercially successful songs. Old habits never die. Seems I remember him taking a run at Nashville way back when. Hey, we like you better here Calman. This is not to slight Jeff in any way, though. Jeff is a past winner of the Kerrville Folk Festival songwriting contest in Texas. Among past winners are Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen. Great company to keep.
The songs they played for the show that night were a good mix of B-H standards and cuts from the new album. Cleverly written songs such as "Pocket Change", "Lay Me Down" and "I Love Waking Up With You".
After briefly setting the audience up with an upcoming song which Calman wrote with his son, the duo stopped cold and they called upon the younger Hart, Charlie, to come up and sing the song instead. What's going to happen here? Is the kid gonna freeze? He's ten years old. Has he sung on stage at a serious gig like this before? He walked out, sat down and sang "Bald", a song about having to get his hair cut (twice) to appease Sister Ursula and be accepted back in his Catholic school. He sang the song with the same comedic phrasing his father is capable of (hmm... Berkley-Hart-Hart down the line?). The kid can write, sing and perform. Gee, I think I was just learning to tie my shoes when I was ten.
Are Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart a likely pair or a mismatch? They are both very serious songwriters yet I'm sure a good party was never wasted on them. They are as one together yet completely different. Jeff is amiable, always laughing and joking (could be crying on the inside, these songs have to come from somewhere) and Calman appears very serious, almost unapproachable, but with a sharp sense of wit (could be laughing at us all on the inside). Who knows and who cares? It works.
Pocket Change Review-March 2006
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Berkley Hart's new CD, Pocket Change, is satisfying and enjoyable from beginning to end. The tit...Berkley Hart's new CD, Pocket Change, is satisfying and enjoyable from beginning to end.
The title cut, a moving tribute to Calman Hart's single-parent mother, is one this reviewer would place squarely in the brilliant category. It chronicles her struggle to raise the Hart clan on the meager salary she made from waitressing. Hart sings, 'when I look back on it now it seems beautiful and strange how much she overcame with pocket change.'
Not to be outdone, Jeff Berkley took a Lizzie Wann poem titled 'For Lillian' and added a catchy melody to create a song that acknowledges a type of woman that many can relate to. Lillian may not treat you right all of the time, but there is something special about her that keeps you coming back for more. Be forewarned - once you listen to this song it will stay in your head for days and you may find yourself inadvertently humming the chorus at the most inopportune times.
Hart counters with what might just be his best song since 'Barrel of Rain.' 'Two Small Birds' is based on an unhappy long-term relationship wherein the husband is content with the relationship flawed as it is because it at least offers security. However, the wife yearns to break out of the cage that their life has become to spread her wings and fly in search of a life more fulfilling.
Another gem is 'Lay Me Down,' Berkley's making up song. He starts out by singing, 'It was all my fault' and then evokes a picture of balmy summer night and a lover's skinny dip in the healing waters of a river. The visual imagery found in this and in many of the album's other songs are just part of what make it superb.
They say that siblings often produce the best harmonies, think Phil and Don Everly and Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson. Although Berkley and Hart are not siblings, their rich, tightly woven harmonies are present on many of the tracks, including Hart's beautiful love song, 'Waking Up With You' and their cover of Mike Scott's and Anthony Thistlethwaite's tribute to Hank Williams, 'Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?'
Pocket Change finds this duo at its best, combining poignant lyrics with masterfully crafted melodies and harmonies. There are no gimmicks, studio effects, or outside musicians here. It captures their live sound in its purest form: two guys, two guitars, and an occasional harmonica or banjo.
--John Phillip Wylie
No BS from BB: BH is A-OK (even if they are singer-songwriters)
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"...Berkley Hart, a distressingly hyphen-free/quirk-free duo, but one I admire despite their dearth ..."...Berkley Hart, a distressingly hyphen-free/quirk-free duo, but one I admire despite their dearth of eccentricity. I've seen 'em as an acoustic duo and I've seem 'em with a backup band; I've heard 'em bust out jam-rock and I've heard 'em unplugged, singing clear 'n' sweet as a virgin rainforest stream.
Berkley Hart's new CD, “Pocket Change,” features the latter methodology; it's a straightforward acoustic duet effort featuring superior songcraft and mellifluous harmony that recalls Crosby, Stills & Nash minus the one guy that doesn't sing as well as the other two, whichever one that was.
Blessedly, the guys don't engage in me-me-me singer-songwriter conceits; rather, they serve up impressionistic elegies that seem to comprise equal measures trad Americana and 1970s songster sensibility. If I favor the former, fans of CSN/James Taylor/Seals & Crofts et al. will be drawn to the latter; if you're guessing BH ain't always my personal cuppa java you'd be correct (“mellow” would be the operative term here), but one can't help respecting the duo's stellar vocal and writing chops in their chosen mode. "