Garage Orchestra

Cindy Lee Berryhill

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Garage Orchestra Review

by Mark Deming

After the sophomore slump of 1989's unfortunately uneven Naked Movie Star, Cindy Lee Berryhill left New York City, did some traveling, and made a home in California, where she settled into a committed relationship, began writing new songs, and took a new approach to how she performed them. Berryhill became friends with Randy Hoffman, a percussionist who had a large collection of instruments in his garage, and as they began toying with her songs, they invited a large and diverse variety of musicians to join in. While the title of 1994's Garage Orchestra refers to the fact Berryhill and her collaborators worked out their arrangements during sessions in Hoffman's garage, it also nods to the ambitious but unpretentious sound of the album as conjured by the dozens of folks who took part in the sessions. The massed backing vocals, buzzing string sections, woodwinds, and Hoffman's tympani, vibraphone, marimba, and other noisemakers give the songs a sound that's big and rich with nuance, but the music still has a playful quality, just ramshackle enough to be loose but still painting the big picture she requires with the layers of sound at her disposal. On tracks like "UFO Suite," "Father of the Seventh Son," and "Song for Brian," this music sounds like a homebrewed approximation of a classic Brian Wilson session of the '60s, with a dash of the Wrecking Crew and the Funk Brothers for additional flavor. And Berryhill was absolutely right to create this kind of scenery for her songs; Garage Orchestra strips away much of the social and political commentary of her early Anti-Folk material and instead gives a genuine sense of wonder to her tunes about love, humanity, and the curious world in which we exist, and as a vocalist and composer, she never sounded as eloquent or as fully engaged as she does here. In her way, Berryhill had just as much to say on Garage Orchestra as on her first two albums, but the greater dynamics and scope of these performances elevate the songs and the result is the finest album of her career.

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