Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Reviews:: Mark Berube What the Boat Gave the River


From the opening splashes of water, What the Boat Gave the River shows the intensity Mark Berube puts into his music. Looking for Another is the dark tale of people escaping across the border, trying to paddle quietly, quickly, ignoring the fear that fills their hearts. The stabbing strings, piano and harmonies echo the situation perfectly, and as the pop song builds you feel like you are in the boat with them, trying to find refuge from the Coast Guard and start over.

And for Berube, this record is his new start.

He's been doing this on his own for a long time and now he's released his strongest, fullest, thickest, most engaging release with the support of a new label. Berube is an interesting artist; world traveler, spoken word poet, pianist, as nice a human being as you'll meet and someone who appreciates the dynamic of a live performance. But all of these things make little difference unless the music lives up to the promise and with a new full time band (The Patriotic Few), Berube seems to have finally found the songs that will get him the attention he deserves.

As he details the issues with the world on Say It Ain't So, he transports us to an African village and paints a picture so vivid you start to hear the rain drops plink off the metal roofs of the shanties give way to the ever present ball of fire beating down on you. The piano dances around the track and the terrific vocals Marie Michelle adds sweetens the song, but underneath the pleasant day, a young child is exposed ot racism for the first time. We Go Down is a rollicking bar room piano number, with three part vocals and hand claps but Mark's voice is still the focal point. His natural cadence and emotion he sings with makes it impossible to let your ears relax.

Even on slower tracks - like the soulful Caulfield Line - he can control every emotion. His voice is taught with tension as he pleads for the train of progress to slow down, offering to tie himself to the tracks if need be. The song adds strings and slow drums, taking the listener to a slower time, one before the desire for innovation took away the moments we used to cherish. A time where a conversation happened face to face, not with poorly typed symbols on a cell phone. His confessional of the loneliness of a performer playing for thinning crowds on Til the Morning uses an echoing, spare piano ballad and tender strings perfectly and you see the struggling artist slink by closed storefronts waiting to be swept up in yet another crowd.

I can't stress how important the band arrangements are to these songs. I've seen him perform the songs by himself, with a string quartet and with a 30 piece street brass band, but the precision the Patriotic Few brings to songs like Yesterday's Halo helps the songs sound complete. As he searches for the town he used to love, the depression you'd expect is replaced by an uplifting swell. The strings and percussion compliment his inspired vocals; and the slow, natural build hooks you in to the journey.

But without a doubt, the single - Flowers on the Stones - is Berube's crown jewel on this release. After three slower tracks, the surging energy of the song is unrelenting. Montreal is known for a few indie bands who craft anthems that build and build to a frantic level, and the city's influence might have seeped inside Berube's soul. The strings, piano, sing shouted chorus and marching band drum snare explode from your headphones into your heart and force it to beat faster and faster. Music is supposed to inspire, and this song can make you feel like anything is possible and for Berube, as everything aligns, finally maybe that is true for him as well.

Posted at 7:46 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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