Bernie Pearl in Concert

Boulevard Music, Culver City, Calif. - March 15, 2008

A concert review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker (progdawg@hotmail.com).

Boulevard Music is a small instrument-sales shop in the bedroom community of Culver City. Unprepossessing, the place nonetheless boasts some major talent on its very small stage. Doug MacLeod drops in here and there, as does Steve Gillette. Carl Verheyen's a regular and John Batdorf (ex-Batdorf & Rodney and Silver) recenty teamed up with James Lee Stanley for a small tour following a great CD of acoustic versions of Stones cuts.

And then there's Bernie Pearl. Not long ago, he released a stunningly authentic live disc from the venue, his second recorded date there actually, and on March 15 showed up for a duet with long-time bassist Mike Barry. Despite the fact that Pearl has a highly impressive history over many years, not to mention that his brother opened up the legendary Ash Grove, he's inexplicably not been the go-to guy over the last decade or so, though he most adamantly deserves that honor. For my money, you could sub him in for Ry Cooder or David Lindley on most any rock-blues LP and none would be the wiser.

This particular blueser's time appears to be coming around once again, however, as this sold-out show saw industry people and idolizing punkers mixing in with the long-time fans showing up for every single Pearl gig. Small wonder: opening up with Going Down Slow, the guitarist set into a blaze of driving rhythms and sizzling lead lines very richly showing his Mance Lipscomb influences. Painstaking authenticity is a trademark of Pearl's and that night he finally unveiled an arrangement of Country Sugar Mama he'd been working on for over a decade, never satisfied with it until just recently. The result was worth the wait, dancing with spirited chords and complex leads.

One song followed another, and it dawned on more than a few why trad blues must be preserved: there's a peculiar grit and Úlan not encountered in other genres, as well as a record of passage the country evolved within. In that, Bernie Pearl is one of its historians nor would it be a bad idea for some writer to hook up with him and coax into print the many tales of his years with giants (Lowell Fulson, Freddie King, Joe Turner, etc.) for the reading public's attention. Moreover, his intimacy with the Grove has granted the man encounters with Flatt & Scruggs, Doc Watson, and myriad country and folk giants. There's definitely a book in all that.

During the concert, Barry plied a contrabass as musky as a bayou night, simple but perfectly centered, unhurried and throaty. His axe has seen many evenings, as has Pearl's acoustic six-string, mellowed in its journeyman's dishabille, an aging process seeming only to have sharpened the instrument's high register while fattening out the bottom. Junior Parker and Fred MacDowell worked their way into the repertoire, plus a Pearl original or two (Blues for Lightnin, etc.), but everyone waited upon one of several true gems: his take on Lipscombe's Rocks and Gravel Boogie, this time with a T.S. McPhee-ish twist, grooving and rockin'. However, the real treat, the ne plus ultra, is always when Bernie picks up a steel guitar and goes to town with a slide, his ace in the hole. Despite sterling performances in every aspect, his slide work is the killing stroke, rendered with a raw grace that entrances while it electrifies. By the time everything wound down, there were smiles for miles and a clear hesitancy to leave the hall and such finely aged bliss.

Copyright 2008, Peterborough Folk Music Society. This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.