Cindy Lee Berryhill alluded to her difficult recent past at the beginning of her opening set Tuesday night at City Winery when, leading into her forthcoming album The Adventurist’s track “Somebody’s Angel,” she invoked “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” the 1969 hit by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition that was written by Mel Tillis and is about a paralyzed veteran of “that crazy Asian war” who begs his wife not to go out on the town.
“I didn’t understand it when I was a kid,” Berryhill said, quoting the lyric “And if I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground/Oh, Ruby, don’t take your love to town.”
“Where was she going? The bowling alley? An Al-Anon group? There are any number of things she could have been doing besides having an affair!”
Berryhill has said that The Adventurist “bookends” with her 1994 album Garage Orchestra in that the first album documented the beginning of her relationship with her late husband Paul Williams and the new one its end: Williams, a prominent rock journalist who was a founder of the seminal rock magazine Crawdaddy!, died last year after many years of debilitation from a severe brain injury following a bicycle accident.
Ruby, Berryhill came to realize, was, much like herself, “a caretaker.”
“That’s not an easy way to go,” she said, adding, of caretakers, “It’s not an easy life—they deserve a song.”
Hence, “Somebody’s Angel.” But she noted after that she had “no regrets,” and had started the show with “a downer song” in order to progress to the more hopeful fare included on The Adventurist.
“You have to eat the healthy stuff first,” she explained, “then the Coca-Cola with ice cream.”
She later brought up her longtime friend Lenny Kaye, who produced her 1989 album Naked Movie Star. Kaye played acoustic guitar on The Adventurist’s “American Cinematography” and the Velvet Underground classic “Femme Fatale,” which was written by Lou Reed—Reed being part of Berryhill’s acknowledged “triumvirate” of key influences, the others being Patti Smith (Kaye has forever been Smith’s guitarist/collaborator) and Brian Wilson.
Berryhill was opening for another influence, Al Stewart, who sang his hit “Time Passages” at Kaye’s request. For his part, by the way, Stewart was quite engaging, particularly in stories like the one about playing places like Tokyo and Rome and hearing wives complain to their husbands that they thought they were going to see Rod, not Al Stewart.
Stewart also brought a nifty merchandise item: a poster pattered after the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover and featuring some 200 people and things associated with the lyrics to his songs–historical, if I heard correctly, and being hard of hearing and sitting in the back and Stewart not having a loud voice, I’m not 100 percent sure. He definitely said that only one person had been able to identify all but one of the figures, and he might have said that he himself couldn’t identify at least 30.