Brian Berggoetz can lay claim to something few can: He had a good 2020. Though the past year gave the Tucson songwriter his fair share of difficulty, it also provided ample time for music and the inspiration to write his first official solo album.
Berggoetz fronts the Brian Berggoetz Band, which plays a blend of rock and blues, but this past year resulted in a series of romantic and uplifting ballads that are better suited for a solo project, "Wildflower."
"I've got to say, this past year has actually been an amazing year for me, outside of losing the best job I ever had just after the virus hit," Berggoetz said. "But after that, I found that a prostate cancer I've had for a couple years started growing and we had to take it out. So it gave me time to heal up, and I was writing these songs with all this time I'd never had before. We got rid of the cancer all together, and it triggered me to not screw around anymore, to do what I needed to do."
The opening title track, featuring a flute layered atop acoustic strumming, sets the stage for the warm folk present throughout the album. Berggoetz sings of a woman dancing in the wind as a violin adds on to the central melodies. Though the second track picks up where the first left off, a heavier string presence and electric guitar stops the songs from sounding one-note.
"Just A Dream" goes further, with vocal harmonies and some subtly psychedelic guitar over surreal lyrics of reaching out to touch a woman who continually floats away, these words given buoyancy by quiet flute notes. But even with this lyrical change, the song maintains the soft optimism inherent to "Wildflower."
If these sound like love songs, it's because they are. Berggoetz wrote and recorded the album for his girlfriend, a muse of sorts, and another gift to him from 2020.
"What really got it going was meeting Karen at the first of last year. It really inspired me to start writing a bunch of songs, and I found my groove as a songwriter. All of the sudden I had all these great songs that were not for the rock band we have, so I tried to do something completely different and go the opposite direction," Berggoetz said. "It came out so much better than I thought it might."
The record's title and theme have two meanings, referring to the individual but also the concept. This is exemplified on the back artwork, a woman's silhouette fading into the sunset above a field of flowers.
"The wildflower is that sweet wild child that inspires a yearning for ultimate love, but always seems to be at arm's length," Berggoetz said. "Like the song 'Just A Dream' is in the same vein. It reaches deep inside each one of us at some point in life. We all know people who have that personality. It's kind of unattainable, but we all reach for it."
The album's pleasance is due in large part to guest musicians Michelle Constanza Miner on vocals and flute, and Shanti Foster on violin. Fellow Monterey Court regular Craig Green also appears on the album, co-writing the bluesy "I Will Go," rife with imagery of life on the road and self-sacrifice, plus a powerful violin passage from Foster.
"We figured out there'd be four songs that Michelle, the vocalist and flute player, would be on. Then the violin came in behind her, because Shanti is so good at playing around the flute," Berggoetz said. "But as far as the lead parts on different songs, they kind of figured themselves out. One song would sound better with a lead violin, others have a lead guitar. We looked at each song by itself to see what it would need and kind of figured it out on the fly."
Berggoetz's lush country style even reinvents Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze," with steady acoustic picking in place of the original acid-washed guitar. The quasi-cover stems from Berggoetz enjoying taking the lyrics from classic rock tracks and making entirely different songs out of them. He does similar work on Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" with his band.
"Wildflower" was recorded with Duncan Stitt at A Writer's Room studio here in Tucson. Recorded during the pandemic, Berggoetz says the musicians never even rehearsed together. Everybody came into the separate rooms of Stitt's studio and recorded their parts when it was their turn. Berggoetz says he appreciates Stitt as an engineer due to his help guiding musicians, rather than directly changing elements of the songs.
"He's kind of a filter, telling us what works or to try things over again," Berggoetz said. "I remember one time, Frank [Filipo], the guitar player, was playing 'Purple Haze,' and he was at the solo section. He played it three or four times but couldn't really find it. Then Duncan said to start it with the same notes that the melody does, and as soon as he did, Frank ripped out the solo in one take. It was awesome."
Though many of the songs on "Wildflower" have a warm and grounded style, they still manage to be soothing, opting for an evening in the Sonoran Desert as opposed to the powerful midday of other dusty folk music out of Tucson. The landscape has a place in the album deeper than the front cover. According to Berggoetz, there's a lot of allegory with the terrain of Tucson. Although the plants are often spiky and dangerous, they contain a unique beauty. And although it's difficult for plants to survive here, they still do, and do it amazingly.
"I couldn't have done it without all the players and Duncan. They're all amazing musicians," Berggoetz said. "I was blown away by what everybody did. When Michelle started singing for the first time, I got tingly. And with Shanti's violin playing, my heart melts as soon as she hits that first note."
The productive streak stemming from 2020 continues. Berggoetz says he is still writing, and is already planning to record a second album in the same style of "bright songs."
"There's so much good in this world, and I think a lot of times it gets lost," Berggoetz said. "I like to see the other side."
Wildflower is available on Spotify, Apple Music and more. For more information, visit brianberggoetz.com
Monterey Court Studio Galleries & Cafe
505 W. Miracle Mile
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 22
7 p.m. Friday, June 25