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San Diego's gal made good

Beloved Stranger
Beloved Stranger
By Cindy Lee Berryhill

Populuxe Records: 2007

This review first appeared in Turbula in November 2007.

It's been far too long since we've gotten an album from Cindy Lee Berryhill. She's the original local gal made good, part of San Diego's 1980s musical explosion in which Berryhill, the Beat Farmers, Mojo Nixon, Fattburger and the Cheathams came storming out of the county and inserted this area in the nation's music consciousness.

More importantly, the Encinitas resident is one of the best songwriters to ever come out of the county, penning such alt-folk classics as "Damn, I Wish I Was a Man," "She Had Everything" and "Who's Gonna Save the World?"

In that she's not had a new studio record in over a decade, it's little surprise that the collection of 11 songs on her new CD is as strong as she's produced since her debut. In "When Did Jesus Become a Republican?", "Forty Cent Raise" and the heartbreaking "Beloved Stranger" she has three songs as utterly perfect as her three above-named classics (which all came off her 1987 debut).

Joined by John Doe of X and Dave Alvin on a couple tracks each, and backed by a crack band throughout, Berryhill seems more confident as singer than in the past, or at least comfortable with her distinctively nasal twang.

Often politicial but never to the point of excluding those who hold views divergent from her own, Berryhill's lyrics are consistently a delight of word play and imagery, perhaps never more so than on "Beloved Stranger" – a tearjerker of a song about the trials her family has experienced in dealing with a brain injury to one of their ranks:

Beloved stranger
I hold so dear
You have the face of someone
who used to live here