As most die-hard vinyl collectors could tell you, the prospect of a rare private pressed record is tantalizing enough, but an album that never saw any kind of release at all is something truly special. Former singer-songwriter Carl Berkhout’s undistributed recordings from 1969-1974 hint at what magic could be lurking on old tapes hidden in basements and attics all across the world.
Berkhout, father to Carling Berkhout of old time string duo Carling & Will (whom we covered back in a roundup post in June) professionally played music in his twenties in his native Los Angeles and eventually cut what appears to be just a handful of tracks, before hanging up his guitar for good.
According to his daughter, in an email that she sent to me, these songs were recorded to reel-to-reel tapes before he abandoned his musical aspirations to become the owner of a silk screen sign business in LA, where he stayed until he left for Vermont in his 50’s. Since then, nobody outside of the family really heard these tunes, and that’s likely how it would have remained, until the Berkhouts converted the tapes to digital audio, and placed them up on Bandcamp last week.
This EP’s five songs are a fascinating peak at a bright and talented artist who was just beginning to take flight. It also gives you just an inkling of what could have been, had the elder Berkhout kept with music.
The EP opens with a chamber pop track, “Painted Windows,” which blends early David Bowie-like vocals with dusty acoustic licks and an orchestral backing and that sound straight out of a Jim Sullivan record.
Berkhout dips his toe into a faux-vaudeville territory on the very Harry Nilsson-esque “Memory Lane,” and samples the more psych-inspired end of the surreal folk rock spectrum with the aptly titled “Sunpaintings.”
Yet, the strongest moments on this album might be the two acoustic duets with singer Lynne Kronsberg, “The Whole Damn Song” and “If I Were to Love You in The Morning.” The starkness of these beautifully somber tunes emphasize Berkhout’s strengths of a singer and a lyricist. Much like the work of F.J. McMahon and Jim Ransom, this same chilly atmosphere helps to steer these country-tinted songs squarely right between the cosmic American music and loner folk sub-genres.
With nearly every song showing a vastly different style and set of highly honed skills, this EP gives a variety of wildly disparate hints of what musical direction Berkhout could have ventured into, had he decided to continue performing and recording. At least today, over 50 years after his earliest recordings were committed to tape, we finally have these shining jewels to enjoy.
This release is only available through Bandcamp, so be sure to click here and get your copy today.