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Peter Bernas - May the Better Man Lose

A Nice Rock in the Rough
by: steven jacobetz

As you can probably tell from the album title, this semi-acoustic folk/rock debut recording from this Chicago-based singer is full of heartbreaking songs that are real tear-jerkers. However, Peter Bernas's record is an emotionally wrenching journey which is convincingly genuine and touching, if not musically brilliant.

In the words of Ralph Covert, fellow musician and Bernas's teacher at the Old Town School of Folk Music, this album reflects Bernas's development from a fledgling songwriter who had to be coaxed into playing a coffeehouse, to an artist who completed a full-length record.

Covert writes in the liner notes, "There's something in these songs which reflect his journey, a mix of pain honestly felt and the determination to somehow rise above it. To dare to love and fail, to dream and try again..."

The story surrounding the recording sessions for the album is as tragic as the material on the CD. Only weeks after the sessions wrapped up, guitarist John Duich, who figures prominently on the album, died unexpectedly and suddenly from a heart attack. The album is dedicated to his memory. It is clear that Bernas has been through a lot, and he is emotionally vulnerable, insecure and defensive. This defensiveness is most clearly shown in the liner notes, where he wrote in big type "A big 'fuck you' to all those who deserve it. You know who you are."

Knowing all the history behind this recording, it is best to proceed with caution and an open mind when listening to it, but the truth is that it is a very uneven album. Some songs are very well constructed, but others are barely cohesive. Bernas's singing voice is very inconsistent. He sounds like a poor Neil Young impersonator, and he has an annoying habit of slipping into spoken narrative, leading one to suspect that these pieces may have been more effective as spoken-word poetry accompanied by music.

The song "St. Agnes" features a most irritating device which involves Bernas narrating each line just before someone else sings them. Also, the second half of the album features several tracks which can be regarded as filler, including a second version of "The Girl You Knew Before" which is harder and faster than the first.

"Swieta W Chicago" was originally a Covert composition with English lyrics before Bernas wrote new lyrics in Polish. "The Paul Super Apple Blues" is an instrumental blues jam written by Duich which only lasts just over one minute before ending abruptly. That song appears to be unfinished, only put on the album because Duich died.

On the other hand, songs like the album's opener, "Apart" (which is the first song Bernas ever wrote), "The Girl You Knew Before" (both versions) and the album's last two tracks, "My Addiction" and "The Night Our Love Died", are well-written tunes which are very enjoyable.

May the Better Man Lose is an album which alternates between the craftsmanship of one of Neil Young's solo acoustic records, and cliché beatnik poetry set to music ("Here I stand, and here I wait/A broken-hearted man waiting for his fate"), all sung rather poorly. However, it does score points for genuineness and honesty. Peter Bernas has poured his heart and soul out for all of us to hear. What more can you ask for from an artist?

Bernas claims that with the help of his friends and teachers, he has gone from being "a rock" to becoming, "a diamond, or at least a nicer rock." This observer agrees, but he clearly has a long way to go before he becomes a true gem of a folk singer. It will be interesting to see if he tries again in the future, or if he has wrung his emotions dry. Time will tell.


Artist Peter Bernas
Album May the Better Man Lose
Label Waterdog Music
Date 04.06.99
Website www.waterdogmusic.com
Rating 3.1 out of 5.0