The anti-adorkable girl

Ricky don’t lose that mojo: Singer-songwriter Ricky Berger—she of the princess-worthy flaxen hair and quirky songs—has something of a twee reputation around these parts. Just another adorkable girl with a ukulele (and accordion!), right? Well, yes and no. Berger’s stuff is actually way more ambitious and sophisticated—in an endearingly oddball sort of way—than the dreck spit out by the average Zooey Deschanel wannabe. Certainly, her upcoming album reflects an ethos that’s at once sweet yet disturbingly dark. This is a girl who, after all, writes songs with titles such as “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Breaks.”

Take that, Disney. This is the new anti-adorkable girl.

Berger, as many of y’all know, has been working with Gordon Raphael. She met the Strokes producer after playing a San Antonio gig in front of the wife of a friend of Raphael’s, who, obviously, succeeded in getting him to listen to the California singer.

Berger and Raphael eventually connected, and she drove to the Lone Star State to work with him. The two formed a close, creative friendship, moving the recording sessions first to the Clear Creek Recording studio in Keene in Southern California—near Berger’s parents’ home in Bakersfield—and then, eventually to Sac’s own The Hangar enclave.

Berger admits she was kind of nervous about recording there, but once she met owner John Baccigaluppi (“the nicest, most helpful man you can imagine”) she fell in love with its well-worn charms.

“I found a microphone there that is the love of my life,” she says. “It’s called a Church mic—named after the inventor, Stanley Church—and was used by people like Frank Sinatra.”

Not to be outdone, Berger’s assembling her own Rat Pack of sorts. Raphael is currently in Berlin, so Berger’s been racking up studio time with a “true gentleman,” Sacto musician Lance Jackman (of the band Eightfourseven). The pair first worked together in Bakersfield after he worked with her as an engineer at The Hangar.

“We recorded a song of mine called ’Temporary Love’ with my piano at my parents’ house,” she says.

The track didn’t make the album, but, Berger says, “I just liked him so much that I wanted to continue working together. … I’m glad we tried it.”

Berger’s also working to arrange “very lush” arrangements (to be played by a large, symphonic orchestra) for five of the songs on the new album. She’s also employing a children’s choir, too. And an adult choir. No specific details yet, but Berger plans to record these big sounds in Los Angeles. The new album is due in spring 2013. I’ve already heard a few tracks and songs such as “When We Go to Sleep” and “Why Be Blue?” are near mythic with creepy beauty.

SoCal wins this round: Speaking of Los Angeles, I had the chance to catch Berger’s longtime musical pal, Adrian Bourgeois, performing with Jon Brion at Largo at the Coronet. The gig wasn’t planned. Bourgeois was in town when he and a friend decided to catch the Fiona Apple producer’s monthly set. Brion’s shows are legendary for their freewheeling style, and on this particular night, the pop singer-songwriter only played a handful of originals before launching into a gazillion audience-picked covers that included a mini-set of Beatles tunes.

For this he invited “any guitar players in the house” to join him onstage as a de facto backup band. Bourgeois says he jumped at the chance.

“Getting to share the stage with Jon Brion at Largo was one of those little miracles that only happens in a place like L.A.,” says Bourgeois. “He’s been a hero of mine for a long time and … when he asked for volunteers to come up and play, it was like an amazing opportunity presented to me on a silver platter.”

Oh, and chalk one up for the City of Lost Angels in the ongoing Sac vs. L.A. smackdown. Yep, Bourgeois is planning to move down south in 2013.

Meeting Brion, he says, just might prove fortuitous.

“It was a great set of circumstances under which to meet him and introduce myself. Who knows, maybe one day I can get him to take a listen to my music.”