Onstage at the Tonic Lounge, the four members of 44 Long are ripping it up, rocketing their way through another blistering set of Stratocaster-driven rock ‘n’ roll. “We have lift-off again/Just in time for the end!” hollers animated frontman and guitarist Brian Berg, kicking into “Colonize Paradise”, a new song with a hooky guitar riff that could snag the most elusive listener.
The occasion is the CD release party for the band’s second album, Inside The Horse’s Head, a 14-track collection of classic roots-rock and hook-laden pop. “I wanted this record to sound like a 1973 playlist from an alternative universe,” says Berg, name-checking a few of his growing-up-in-the-’70s influences: Neil Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Harry Nilsson.
The new hard-driving rockers fare well onstage, propelled by guitarist Andy Ricker, bassist Eric Furlong and drummer Cory Burden. On the album, however, the standouts are the more melodic, introspective tunes. Musically, Berg’s songs range from melodic pop layered with harmonies to country-flavored rockers to acoustic ballads; lyrically, he wrestles with inner demons and searches for the heart of the matter, with threads of wry humor and optimism woven throughout.
Berg’s rock ‘n’ roll sensibilities were firmly grounded from growing up in a musical household. His father, a music professor, always had instruments around the house; then there were his older brother and sister’s record collections of ’60s music — Motown, Mitch Ryder, the Raiders, the Beatles. “Always the Beatles,” he muses, relating how he ran home from playing baseball at the age of six to see the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show”.
After being involved in a variety of bands, from the requisite fire-breathing Kiss-like combo in high school to late-’80s/early-’90s Portland faves the Oblivion Seekers, Berg finally assembled a band of his own, 44 Long (named after his suit size), in 1997. “I was about to turn 40, might as well document this thing,” Berg explains.
Collect Them All, 44 Long’s first disc, was recorded in Berg’s basement studio and self-released in the fall of 1997. Inside The Horse’s Head, also recorded at Berg’s home studio, came out in April on local label Sideburn, an offshoot of Burnside Records.
Back at the Tonic Room, after shaking down the rafters, Berg closes 44 Long’s celebratory set with a solo rendition of “Concussion Be Your Guide”, one of those more introspective standouts from the new record. “Concussion be your guide/You take shotgun and I’ll drive.” Here’s to the open road ahead.