Some Kind of Cure
[Straw Man Music (2011)]
David Berkeley’s new album is some kind of wonderful for fans of the written and recited word. From the very first moments, the focus is squarely on his straightfoward but evocative poetry:
She was walking cross George Square in the rain.
I was high. I was so high in a plane.
I was trying to see through the clouds,
Looking for places we’d been,
Like a sign, like a sunburst, like the letters in her name.
Berkeley’s voice and melodies call to mind contemporaries like Ryan Adams and Ben Gibbard (of Deathcab for Cutie), and predecessors like the Buckleys (Tim more than Jeff) and Nick Drake, without feeling like a retread or even direct musical ancestry. His floating, tender, and near-falsetto delivery on tracks like the opener “George Square” and “The Blood and the Wine” put me in mind particularly of Ryan Adams from his Heartbreaker period, but he sneaks some near eastern/Mediterranean influence into “Independence,” no doubt culled from the year he spent in a 35-person village in the mountains of Corsica.
“There were no stores in our town. No Cafes. No post office. No internet. It was silent. I had very few distractions, which was quite different from living in a big city. Because no one spoke English . . . [w]hen I played songs for the villagers, I had to make sure the emotion came through in the music, as well as the words.” —David Berkeley
Berkeley keeps you guessing with tracks like “Steel Mill.” It’s a string-band singalong at heart with a bit of vocal twang for good measure, but it surprises when the instrumental is taken not by the banjo or a mandolin but the piano (played by producer Will Robertson). Upbeat indie rockers like “Parachute” and “Hope for Better Days” perk things up early.
This is before the album even hits its centerpiece: The title track, an exploration of a rare emotion, reverse home sickness.
Corsica, I’m calling from over here.
It’s dangerous to open up more and more.
So sorceress, come conjure up some kind of cure.
Please hold me like you used to, baby . . .
Please hold me like you know what I’m going through.
Things get quiet right after these lines; the crescendo that follows, especially when the horns come in, is the most moving point on the record.
Berkeley’s version of the 19th-century American song “Shenandoah” begins the second half of the album. It suffers partly from falling right after “Some Kind of Cure,” and his jaunty but downbeat reworking of the tune is ultimately unsatisfying despite the appropriateness of the subject matter. Overall, the second half of the disc is less exciting musically; there are fewer upbeat tunes, the arrangements are sparser, and the vocals are more intimate. This is closer to what can be expected from Berkeley in concert, and it was probably the right choice to keep things consistent for many tracks in a row rather than jumping back and forth between the sparse and heavy production. But my tastes skew toward the dramatic side of the CD. This side has its own charms, of course, ending as it does with a whisper:
Oh it’s hard, I know, to carry on.
Go with grace my son.
Berkeley acknowledges his reputation for lengthy stage banter, and he’s leveraged this talent for always having something interesting to say into more than just his lyrics. He’s also written a companion book of short stories, 140 Goats and a Guitar. [www.davidberkeley.com]
—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)
[Editor’s note: David will be going on Some Kind of Tour starting today. People in the Driftwood home area can see him tomorrow night at Jammin’ Java. -Jack]