Finding a way to stop the insanity of 2020 wasn’t easy for Ben DeBerry and Dorothy Daniel, the down-home, genuine, bona fide husband-and-wife singing-songwriting duo who combined their names and talents to become the Danberrys in 2009. During a year gone haywire by the global pandemic, the East Nashvillians watched their baby girl turn 1 year old in May and planned to give birth to a brand-new album around the same time. With moments of bliss and anguish intermingling before some light began to emerge near the end of a long, dark tunnel, they managed to ease their pain by singing other folks’ tunes.
The Danberrys’ soothing rendition of “Helplessly Hoping”, written by Stephen Stills for Crosby, Stills and Nash’s self-titled debut album that was released in 1969, provides more comfort and joy than a cozy quilt during a bleak winter blizzard. The harmonious roots couple, who officially arrived 40 years after the song from that classic album began making an impact as a B-side single, present their exclusive music video premiere of “Helplessly Hoping” today at PopMatters. DeBerry and Daniel, who were married on 14 October 2006, also participated in a detailed email interview that accompanies the video.
First, check out the video, shot near the end of 2020 in Joe McMahan’s East Nashville home studio by their good friend/musician Luke Amelang and, Daniel points out, includes “our great friend and fantastic musician Kyle Tuttle” on banjo. Then read on to find out more about the Danberrys, the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young connection, other cover songs they are releasing for an upcoming EP, and projects planned during these vaccine-indoctrination months in which DeBerry, Daniel, and many more musicians are ready to get their comeback shots.
Telling Cover Stories
Asked which member of the Danberrys is the biggest Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young) fan, Daniel responds, “Well, this question is impossible to answer … ha! Ben introduced me to CSN (sometimes Y) in high school, so we’ve both been huge fans for a long time. Ben would probably claim that he’s the biggest fan, but I would need some clear criteria for such a heated contest.”
Though he isn’t claiming bragging rights in this dandy Danberrys duel over their CSN&Y devotion, DeBerry probably has the edge since he began playing tunes like “Helplessly Hoping” and “4 + 20” as a teenager, long before both became mainstays at their live shows. The latter tune, also written by Stills, landed on 1970’s Déjà Vu as he, David Crosby and Graham Nash were joined by Neil Young to supplement the supergroup’s superpowers.
“I imagine that I was just messing around on my guitar one night and Dorothy came in and started singing with me,” DeBerry offers of their initial introduction as a performing pair to CSN&Y. “The decision to record these tunes (“Helplessly Hoping” and “4 + 20”) came about late last year when we did a duo livestream at our ‘home bar,’ Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge. We closed with these two songs, and it just felt really good. We had been planning to record some cover tunes, so it seemed like a no-brainer at that point.”
Daniel acknowledges she has never seen “CSN&Y or any of its iterations live, unfortunately.” But DeBerry, who saw CSN&Y perform at a 2000 arena show in Nashville, was also an ardent Young supporter who went to many of his concerts. One highlight was Young with Crazy Horse at the second Bonnaroo festival in June 2003. Then, as a member of the Ryman Auditorium audience, DeBerry attended a private taping of a show that became part of the Heart of Gold concert film that was directed by Jonathan Demme and shot over two nights in August 2005.
Young’s “Cripple Creek Ferry” was the first of five new covers recorded for the Danberrys’ new self-produced EP called Songs We Sing, which will be released on 7 May exclusively on Bandcamp. Dedicated to their daughter Ollie, she “loves all of these songs,” Daniel says. “Cripple Creek Ferry” was completed in Nashville in 2019 at Brian Carter’s home studio Paradox Productions, according to DeBerry, who reveals, “Ollie was only a few months old, and she was asleep in the control room with Brian while we recorded that tune. It was a wild experience, trying to get the perfect take between naps and bottles.”
There were no such challenges in the “Helplessly Hoping” video as Amelang was “sharing the control room couch and lots of cuddles with Joe’s sweet puppy,” according to Daniel. “Eartha [who’s in the video] is just over a year old and is most likely a Tennessee Treeing Brindle. Probably with a little [pit bull] in there as well.”
While the music video for “4 + 20” is ready but will be released at a later date, Daniel maintains “there was no conscious connection with the timing of our cover” to the deluxe edition of Déjà Vu that will be released on May 14 to belatedly recognize that album’s 50th anniversary.
Proving their longstanding loyalty, she adds, “However, mystical synchronicities are never to be counted out. And YES, we will definitely be getting the deluxe edition on vinyl!” Two more songs round out the Danberrys’ collector-worthy lineup of covers. Songs We Sing includes George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You”.
They were among the four recorded over the winter at McMahan’s studio. Guest musicians along with Tuttle, who appears briefly in the “Helplessly Hoping” video, are Philippe Bronchtein (keys and pedal steel on “All Things Must Pass”) and John Mailander (fiddle on “If I Needed You”). The latter cover and “Cripple Creek Ferry” are among the favorites in the “repertoire of lullabies” Daniel sings to Ollie.
Calling the EP “a nice throwback to previous projects where we had total creative control,” DeBerry adds, “Of course, we counted Joe’s and Brian’s opinions to be priceless since they’re both great producers as well as engineers. The production on all of these tunes is pretty stripped-down and simple, so we felt pretty confident about producing it ourselves.”
It took a lot of years — and almost as many obstacles — for them to move into that comfort zone, though.