In another world, far, far away, Rick Berlin will get million-dollar production from Lee Townsend, Larry Klein, or T Bone Burnett. Stephin Merritt will reject him as an opener on his tour because he feels threatened; all the same, Berlin will take his place among the pantheon of American singer-songwriters, along with Merritt, Randy Newman, and Tom Waits. In the meantime, this former glam-rocker and current unofficial mayor of Jamaica Plain gets to fashion his indelible story songs and character portraits with a coterie of estimable sympathetic locals who here include guitarists Kevin Barry and Duke Levine and Dennis Brennan on harp and back-up vocals. The songs are the usual mix of barflies, fame-starved wanna-bes, and motley lonelyhearts club in a variety of styles: oom-pah barroom rant ("PBR"), Stonesy shuffle with slide guitar ("Bermuda Triangle"), fast ska ("Hard 2 Be Liked"), and any number of signature Berlin piano ballads. What's refreshing about the songwriting, aside from the musical variety, is the way Berlin inhabits his characters based on snatches of conversation he's picked up on Centre Street or at Doyle's. "If I Wasn't Such a Bum" is a disgruntled cousin of the guy watching "Sean Penn on Charlie Rose" — but who's the girl (narrating first person) who tears her dress in "Bermuda Triangle"? Whatever. For Berlin, these literate, funny, touching songs are autobiography by other means.
RICK BERLIN + BURIED BEDS | Lizard Lounge, 1667 Mass Ave, Cambridge | October 16 at 9 pm | 21+ | $10 | 617.547.0759 or lizardloungeclub.com