One of the greatest singers in country music wants you to listen to him in a whole new way.
Mention the name "John Berry" to just about any country music lover and the response will likely be, "What an awesome vocalist!" For he is noted for the intense passion he has brought to such hits as "Your Love Amazes Me" and "Standing on the Edge of Goodbye." John Berry's wide-ranging tenor voice remains an instrument of stupendous power. But it's not what he wants you to notice on his new Those Were the Days CD.
"This is not about how long can a note be held," says Berry. "This is not about, 'Let me show you what I can do.' This is about the songs. This is about what these songs have got to say. This is about me communicating these messages. Having a conversation, and Let me tell you a story".
"I was very conscious of that when I recorded this album. I grew up with a real gospel background, a lot of church music. In that kind of music, you sing the notes as long as you can sing them, before you go on to the next one.
The collection's first single, "A Woman Like You" is already attracting attention with its clever lyric, chopping rhythms and rocking mood. On a song like the sexy, uptempo "Somethin' Somethin,'" John Berry is clearly phrasing his vocals in a more conversational manner. He draws you into the message of the ballad "If That Ain't Love" with gentle persuasion. He is lilting on the jaunty "We Were There," broken hearted in the power waltz "Fool's Lullaby" and wistfully resigned in the ballad "Just Married."
Throughout the album, he shifts the tones and colors of his voice to best convey each of its songs. Berry is remarkably restrained in the sweet story tune "The Balloon Song," yet muscular in the soaring, melodic choruses of "You Still Own Me." The power ballad "Day and Night" has vividly picturesque lyrics that he allows to shine. And he revels in the nostalgia and drama of the CD's title tune, "Those Were the Days."
In addition to being one of the strongest collections of songs he has ever assembled, Those Were the Days is one of the best-produced albums John Berry has ever made. Its tracks have striking instrumental clarity and ear-opening audio dynamics. Again, this is a result of the star rethinking his approach to recording. Instead of tapping into Nashville's pool of established producers, Berry went looking for someone with a fresh approach. He hired one of Music Row's hidden sonic geniuses, Kerry Kurt Phillips, to produce Those Were the Days.
Phillips is known for penning such award-winning songs as "I Don't Need Your Rocking Chair" (George Jones), "Pickup Man" (Joe Diffie), "Do You Want Fries with That" (Tim McGraw), "She Let Herself Go" (George Strait), "Almost Home" (Craig Morgan), "Down on the Farm" (Tim McGraw), "Drinkin' Bone"(Tracy Byrd) and "Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox" (Joe Diffie). Although John Berry had never met the songwriter, he knew he wanted to find a hit song.
"We had a mutual friend who told him I was looking for some songs," Berry recalls. "Kerry Kurt said, 'Sure, send him my way.' He couldn't have been nicer. We were looking for something special. The morning we were going over to see him, my manager, Terry Oliver, my wife Robin and I joined hands and prayed for God to send us a song. We left Kerry Kurt's that afternoon with 18 songs that (would just lay you out) were amazing.
"His demos of his songs sounded so good. I said, 'Who in the world produces your demos?' He said, 'I do it myself.' I said, "I'd like for you to work on this record with me if you'd consider doing it.'
"One of the things that attracted me to his demos is how real and natural the instruments sounded. It was such an earthy, organic sound. And yet it was so completely contemporary and fit today's country-music market. I told Kerry Kurt that's what I wanted.
"He brought 'Those Were the Days,' 'Day and Night' and 'If That Ain't Love' to us. And then he put that producer's hat on and said, 'I'm going to find songs from some (other) friends of mine.' And he did. So I feel so fortunate and very blessed to have not just a great guy to work with producing the record, but someone who could open up the top drawers of the songs on Music Row."
John Berry is no stranger to great songs. Nor is he a novice in the recording studio. Born in South Carolina and raised in Georgia, he began playing guitar at 13, performing shows at age 14 and making records at age 19.
Between 1979 and 1990 he recorded and marketed six albums on his own labels.Those early discs and John Berry's strong regional popularity attracted attention on Music Row. Capitol Records signed him in 1992. Berry's co-written "A Mind of Her Own" and "Kiss Me in the Car" introduced him to radio audiences in 1993. Then "Your Love Amazes Me," "What's in It for Me" and "You and Only You" thrust him to stardom in 1994. "Standing on the Edge of Goodbye," "I Think About it All the Time" and "If I Had Any Pride Left at All" were all major hits the following year.
But it was his stunning performance of the title track of the 1995 CD O Holy Night that led to his most enduring legacy. John Berry began doing a Christmas tour that year. This year will mark his 12th consecutive holiday concert series. He has also issued three more Christmas-music collections.
Berry took "Change My Mind" into the country-music top-10 in 1996. "She's Taken a Shine" became an even bigger hit, a number 1, in 1997. He switched to Lyric Street Records in 1999, then to the Ark 21 label in 2000. In 2002, he returned to making records for his own company. Songs and Stories, a double CD issued that year, led to another concert series that continues to this day. On the "Songs and Stories" shows, he performs solo in intimate theater settings.
In 2003, John Berry issued his I Give My Heart collection and its critically applauded wedding anthem "Will You Marry Me." The disc also contained his versions of such classic love songs such as "Time in a Bottle," "If," "Love Look What You've Done to Me," "Faithfully," "Lady" and "Let's Stay Together." I Give My Heart inspired still another popular annual concert series, "The Love Tour." These are full-band shows scheduled just before and after each Valentine's Day.
Now Those Were the Days marks John Berry's return to mainstream country music. It is on his Clear Sky Records label, as are Celebrate This Christmas (2005), Hits (2006), O' Holy Night Live, I Give My Heart, and Songs and Stories. These days, it is common for country artists to succeed with their own labels. John Berry was doing it long before any of his peers.
"This is a rebirth of sorts and I'm into that."