Produced by:James Berk and Jamie Berk Recorded at:Omni Sound, Quad Studios, Sound Emporium and East Iris Studios, Nashville, TN
Nashville singer-songwriter Jamie Berk is only a few years removed from fronting his junior-high cover band that specialized in Third Eye Blind and Goo Goo Dolls songs. He points out that the drummer put an end to the fledgling musical enterprise by quitting the band before their third gig. Drummers are a notorious bunch, but the setback proved serendipitous for Berk. With the cover band out of commission, he redirected his focus toward songwriting and performing original music. And he became very good at it, quickly.
Evidence of his songwriting talent bursts forth on "Hooked," the opening track of his debut album of the same name. There’s a girl in this song, and like a lot of girls in memorable rock songs she’s not the staying kind. She’s gotten under Berk’s skin, perhaps even into his bloodstream, judging from the fire that burns beneath the tune. He's let her have it with wonderful abandon, but without letting himself off the hook. It’s a bitter, beautiful pill of a song, dancing and spitting with a smart blend of lyrical invective and pure, guitar-driven glee.
The album was produced by Berk and his father, James, for the independent Next Horizon label, and recorded at Omni Sound, Quad Studios, East Iris Studios and Sound Emporium in Nashville the summer after Berk graduated high school, and before he headed off to Dartmouth College. At that young age, artists often have a difficult time finding their own voice; but Berk’s songs and performances brim with confidence and originality. The song “Blue Jay” is a perfect example, grabbing you with a soulful, country hook and a first verse that’s priceless:
If you were perfect I’d be down a song
We could walk down by the river with no need to get home
We’d drift away in those cool waters, leave our troubles at the shore
But you’re not perfect, so I’ll have to write on
If you’re looking for influences or touchstones, think rock singer-songwriters like Ryan Adams, Sufjan Stevens and Amos Lee. Berk displays a nice range on Hooked, moving from dark, minor-key ballads (“Remains of the Day”), to hopeful, piano-laced love songs (“Home and Away”), to organ-and-guitar driven gospel-tinged pop (“There I Go”). He is supported on Hooked by a strong backing band of musical friends and Nashville sidemen, including Charles Judge, Chris Leuzinger, and Spady Brannon. He also shares songwriting credits with friends Jackson Floyd and Scott Schwartz, two solid emerging artists in their own right.
Turns out, Berk doesn't confine his writing to songs, but spends a good deal of his time writing about music, too, both as an intern at Rolling Stone and as Editor of The Dartmouth Independent. He's also already moderated a forward-looking panel discussion on the future of music and journalism at the industry's all encompassing media gathering, the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, TX.
Still, he continues to write, with a new double album on the way. "Music is my passion,” says Berk. "I'm in it to stay."
- Michael Norman