I hate to admit it, but before Pete Berwick contacted me and asked me if I could review his latest album, Just Another Day In Hell, I had never heard the name. But luckily my embarrassment can be drowned out by that somewhat ecstatic feeling you get when you discover a new artist whose music really gets your heart pumping, and you realize that they’ve been around long enough to have a whole music career to go back and discover.
In one word, Just Another Day in Hell is great. You might take by the title and the tracks (such as “While I Die” and “I Fought with Angles”) that this might be yet another album full of cliches about “Fighting with the Devil” and such, and yes, that element is there, but this album is so much more. Pete Berwick cannot be pigeon holed, not in musical style, or in his songwriting.
This album takes you on a range of emotions and settings as diverse as the seasons. It starts off by kicking your teeth in with the screaming slide blues and growling lyrics of the country rocker “Vacancy in my Heart.” But Pete isn’t afraid to cry and croon as well. Like he says in “Too Soon to Quit,” “I’m gonna wear my heart right on my sleeve. I’m gonna kick down every door that’s in front of me.”
What Pete Berwick does in this album is expose himself completely and truthfully through his songs. He cries his heart out, he openly admits his faults and frailties. His machismo rants are chased with battered reflections and broken dreams. He sings what he lives, and lives what he sings. He lays it all out there, be damned what anybody thinks. This isn’t vicarious grandstanding badassedry done to formulaic country themes, this is real life, and by unabashedly spilling his guts out, Pete Berwick makes one of the most true and soulful collections of songs you will find out there.
At times Berwick crosses that line from songwriting to sheer poetry. In one of my favorite songs “While I Die,” he does an amazing job tying together a child afraid of the dark and wanting to leave a light on, with the darkness inside a full grown man riddled with indecision, demons, and the burden of a broken heart. The songwriting is pure genius, and an excellent example of Berwick’s songwriting prowess:
Pete can use his way with words to make you laugh as well, like in “Hello Hand,” which is about, well, a hand, and um, something one might do with a hand during lady troubles. But again, this song like most of them is based in biting truth, and with the soul and grit of Berwick’s voice you take this song as much more than just mirth making, but a harsh reality of a man’s life that shoots empathy into the listener’s heart, and memories into their head.
Musically Pete Berwick and his band also deserve praise. They may not start a music revolution, but the guitar work is superb, the arrangements are tight and smart, and the music shows surprising range that for the most part fits the mood that the lyrics create. It’s high energy, with a country heart. There’s a lot of punk attitude in there too, in style and approach. I was really glad that Berwick was not afraid to slow it down and make it sweet as well, and that he was not afraid to do this multiple times. Sometimes the arrangements were maybe even a little too sweet, but they never felt out of place for what direction the song was going.
One criticism I could give is that at 18 songs Just Another Day in Hell could be a little shorter. Some of the songs just didn’t work for me like “Roadkill Blues,” and by trimming a little of the fat, Pete could have had top-notch songs from cover to cover. Having said that, you can tell that Pete and his band pulled out all of the stops for this album and got it right and spared no expense. If the song called for tightly arranged background harmonies and keyboards, it got it.
This might be the first time I’ve written about Pete Berwick, but it won’t be the last. He has more music for me to explore, and possibly more importantly, a story to tell. Berwick is not a newcomer. Here he is on Sound Stage 18 years ago, giving you a good live example of his style:
If you consider yourself a fan of hard edged country with a punk rock twist that isn’t afraid to weep, then you need Pete Berwick in your rotation.
Pete Berwick: Just Another Day In Hell
Other Pete Berwick Albums: