If you are searching for the ultimate combination of the literary musician then look no further than David Berkeley. Instead of compartmentalising two of his no doubt many artistic strands, David has decided to merge the contents of his latest book and album. CARDBOARD BOAT is the musical offering and hits the market in the format of a ten track record. Its literary counterpart is the novella THE FREE BRONTOSAURUS which is a collection of ten interweaving stories running through similar themes and characters. You will not be surprised to see the blurb stating that both art forms can be enjoyed separately, although there is extra merit in multi-consuming your cultural intake. The only comment that can be made here is how the record shapes up as a stand-alone entity, although packages are available to purchase both simultaneously.
David Berkeley first crossed my path a couple of years ago via the release of his album THE FIRE IN MY HEAD and follow up UK live dates as part of the trio New American Troubadours. The concluding summary from that initial discovery was of an exceptional lyricist capable of spinning wizardry images with the beauty of words. With this endearing feature, it was of little surprise to see him tackle this type of project especially as his back catalogue consists of both recorded albums and published writing. What can be construed by getting to grips with this new record is that it can flourish as an independent album, but perhaps more surprisingly it blossoms more evidently on the musical side rather than the lyrics.
The ten songs fluctuate in the production intensity ranging from mellow offerings such as album opener ‘Setting Sail’ to grander pieces like the title track ‘Cardboard Boat’, which emerges as a mini epic. This latter has a three part composition involving a soft intimate beginning gradually evolving into a mid-song instrumental melange before an effective reduced tempo at the end. Many of the songs are underpinned by the banjo sound with trumpets, cellos and the usual affray of guitars, keys and percussion forever keeping the sound fresh and interesting. David’s vocals effectively convey the sincerity of his story telling and during the first half of the record these are ably assisted by Sara Watkins, of widespread roots acclaim in the guise of her solo work, Nickel Creek and the Watkins Family Hour.
Two upbeat songs which impressed in the record’s early stages were the critically tuneful ‘Coloured Birds’ and the rousing number with finale pretensions, ‘Last Round’. This last song had almost a shanty feel to it and throughout the entire record folk singer sensibilities are prevalent. Lyrically each song is a first person account of a different character featured in the novella. Grasping this side of the record wasn’t particularly forthcoming so going back to an earlier claim, perhaps the entirety of this project is the best position to enjoy its full potential.
However this does not detract from a sophisticated feel to a rounded and well-constructed album with the ability to impress on its musical merit. You feel this is just a stopping off point for an artist like David Berkeley and while his work could veer in a multiple of directions, it will always possess interesting facets to explore. CARDBOARD BOAT is an album worthy of checking out, but you won’t escape thoughts of the book. However there is no rule against just enjoying music rather than continually fully understanding all aspects of the component intricacies.
Source for the book although try your local independent bookshop