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The singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar is probably the most primal form of pop music – anything beyond that is embellishment. But if it it’s the most basic form of music, it’s also one of the trickiest to pull off well – the line between what is simple and powerful and what is sentimental and maudlin is a thin one. On the surface, songs like the beloved “The Blower’s Daughter” by Damien Rice and the reviled “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt might sound similar, but in their depths they are worlds apart.
On “George Square,” New Jersey musician and poet David Berkeley lands firmly in the Rice camp. Superficially, there’s not much that separates the song from thousands of “longing for my lover” songs by thousands of sensitive singer-songwriters, but Berkeley manages to nail the right alchemy in his combination of imagery, melody, and arrangement to make “George Square” a keeper. It could have been cloying and mawkish but Berkeley makes it heartfelt and moving, adorning his song with just enough instrumentation to enhance the mood but not enough to mask the simple acoustic performance at its core.
Sometimes the simplest approaches to art are the most dangerous to attempt. An acoustic troubadour can’t hide behind layers of feedback and sonic trickery – if his songwriting is deficient, he’s got no place to hide. Like Damien Rice, Ron Sexsmith, Josh Ritter, and David Gray at his best, David Berkeley has the talent to withstand the scrutiny.
“George Square” is the lead track on Berkeley’s self-released new album, Some Kind of Cure.