Live Music

Unique Duet Between Prose and Song

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By Clay Payne
TFW Contributing Writer

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, moments before the evening storm fell, patrons of Nightbird books on Dickson Street in Fayetteville caught an intimate concert/reading by folksy pop singer/songwriter and author David Berkeley. Berkeley has been touring the country to promote his fourth and most recent studio album — “Some Kind of Cure” and its accompanying memoir, “140 Goats And A Guitar: The Stories Behind Some Kind of Cure.” Having already stopped in cities such as Austin and San Francisco, Berkeley’s visit to Fayetteville denoted the half mark of his “Chunk” tour.

Berkeley, who’s been identified as a “musical poet” by the San Francisco Chronicle, has a melancholy and melodious song style that is sharply yet appropriately countered by his descriptive and humorous writing. Whether it’s with a guitar and lyrics or pen and paper, the man is a story teller.

His songs are sad acoustic tunes triumphed by a hopeful tone that result in an inner-ear itch that can’t be scratched, left by similar artists like Nick Drake, Ryan Adams and Jeff Tweedy. Although musicians typically don’t prefer to be categorized, Berkeley dubbed himself as an “indie-folk singer/songwriter.”

Accompanied by Jordan Katz of De La Soul on banjo and trumpet, each song Berkeley performed was tied to an excerpt from his book that he wryly read before playing the song to accentuate the real feeling of the story. Most songs performed by Berkeley, with the exception of the finale — a hauntingly clever cover of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” — can be heard on “Some Kind of Cure.”

“Each piece gives a description of the story,” Berkeley said. “It gives people a chance to experience my world with me, then hear the song that came out of it. I think it’s kind of a cool concept that hasn’t been done.”

Berkeley said that he wrote the album’s songs and book during his one-year stint spent in the mountains of Corsica, where he traveled with his wife while she was doing field work for her anthropology major.

The 13 songs on the album each have a story to go along with it, and Berkeley explained that he liked the concept of a dual book/album project concept because some material from the same experiences are better suited in prose and vice versa for song. He said that the songs he writes are all about emotions and are not bogged down in detail. This differs from his stories, which are all about details, and are also funny at times while the songs are far from hysterical.

Berkeley’s range from serious to silly complimented his readings and songs perfectly, as was the concert creatively conducive to a coffeehouse. The stories, both read and sung, went down well with a warm cup of cinnamon vanilla latte. He was realistically relatable with a down-home demeanor, the kind of performer you feel like you’ve known your whole life after listening to him speak/sing for an hour.

What I liked most about the concert was the performance’s intimacy that can simply not be matched at a bigger bar or club. With a crowd of about 20 listeners in a coffee house cluttered with other various attendants using the internet and reading, the one-hour performance felt like a conversation with Berkeley. The close-knit group of fans could literally reach out and touch the performers, a microphone wasn’t needed except to out-do the hustle and bustle of coffee shop roamers.

While “140 Goats And A Guitar: The Stories Behind Some Kind of Cure” was Berkeley’s first book to be published, he said he would like to do another dual album/book project, possibly a work of fiction in a collection of short stories for the next record.

In addition to being featured on Acoustic Café, MTV partner Ourstage is currently featuring the track, “Parachute,” as an editor’s pick of the month. Yahoo! Music placed “Some Kind of Cure” at number 19 on its list of “Albums That Should Be In Every Home.”
Although only Katz was in attendance at the acoustic duo unplugged session in Fayetteville, Berkeley’s backing band on “Some Kind Of Cure” includes drummer Kevin O’Donnel (Andrew Bird), vocalist Kim Taylor (Over The Rhine), Lex Price on mandolin (Mindy Smith), and Peter Bradley Adams (EastMountainSouth.)

Before making his last stop in Fayetteville before heading home to the California Bay area to be with his two children, Berkeley performed at the 2011 Rocky Mountain Folk Festival in Lyons, Colo. He said that he normally schedules his tours with near-month stops in between in order to visit his family. To listen to the album or order the book, visit www.davidberkeleycom.

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