David Berkeley: Strange Light

[20 May 2009]

By Aarik Danielsen

All at once, David Berkeley’s songs retain a timelessness reminiscent of the greatest songwriters who have emerged over the past few decades, yet they also establish him as a clear, distinct and fresh poetic voice. Berkeley’s story is one of varied experiences: Harvard grad, stops as a writer at multiple magazines, residences from Brooklyn to Alaska to Corsica, France and now an artist growing in acclaim and sharing the mic with acts like Nickel Creek, Rhett Miller, Ben Folds, Rufus Wainwright and Joseph Arthur. Perhaps, it is this worldliness that has cultivated the sensitivity, perception and charisma that marks Berkeley’s work on Strange Light.

Musically, Berkeley exudes the effortless, everyman soul of an early James Taylor while arranging his work in the folk/rock vein of a Ryan Adams or Ray Lamontagne. Berkeley’s songs go down easy but remain and resonate in the soul long after the last strains of Strange Light have faded away. Opening cut “Hurricane” builds slowly and beautifully, a quiet storm of sound and heart; “Willis Avenue Bridge” is his most Taylor-esque moment, a modern “Sweet Baby James” written not about Berkeley but about a girl who finds it “hard to pull over, hard to hold all of the memories in your mind…”

Other standout moments include the slow, sultry blues groove of “Sweet Auburn” in which Berkeley sings about a girl who with “curves like a river bank, makes a church man stray” and the gospel-tinged “Oh Lord, Come Down”. Album closer “Angelina” is a simple narrative marked by striking detail and imagery. Accessible yet intricate, Berkeley’s writing reveals the makings of something and someone special. Strange Light is a down-to-earth work of stunning proportions.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/93021-david-berkeley-strange-light/