Marc Douglas Berardo - Whalebone (Album Review)

It’s always difficult to review, endorse or suggest an unfamiliar rising artist to an audience of readers / music lovers without comparing that artist somewhat with artists who have come before.

A point of reference is required to give a hint to the reader what they are to experience and if their interest would be piqued. After all, to serious music lovers music is quite personal. Not every artist is back ground music. Some require time and patience to listen and hopefully, appreciate.

Marc Douglas Berardo is one such artist to appreciate.

His brand new collection “Whalebone” produced by brother Chris Berardo was recorded in New York City and Woodstock, NY in 2013. It’s a highly polished personal collection in the tradition of many clever songwriters of the past that forged songs like short stories.

Who comes to mind? James Taylor specifically with this new set. A little of The Band with the delicate accordion passages and even some artists who didn't have wide-appeal careers but are worth mentioning: Alex and Livingston Taylor (James’ brothers), Eric Andersen, David Blue, Townes Van Zandt, Joe Henry, David Ackles and the one most recognizable: Donald Fagen.

There are probably many others but this is the aisle you would have to walk down to find Marc Douglas Berardo. This is not a rollicking Bruce Springsteen approach, or gutsy roots oriented John Haitt trip through Americana, or piano pumping Jerry Lee Lewis rock. These songs are on the delicate trapeze of poignancy with suave rhythms, cool as an icy summer drink back-up vocals, lots of presence and personality.

Confessional? Maybe a little, but more personal than confessional. It’s a listen that is relaxing and it will stab at your emotions -- recollecting times gone by, tweaking your memories and opening doors to reminiscing.

The album’s first cut “Don’t Wait For Me (Slow You Down)” is a good beginning. On first listen the tunes are a little slow getting out of the gate. Not to worry though, the production and performance is on solid ground. By the time your ears reach “Hotel By the Bay,” “My Mistakes” and “With Every Passing Day” the album’s momentum starts to gain ground on your ears and it never lets go.

The performances are sincere, fluid, charming and above all gripping.

This first song reminds me a little of the late English singer-songwriter who wrote similar story lines decades ago – David McWilliams.

McWilliams was famous for “The Days of Pearly Spencer” – covered years later by Marc Almond. My being reminded of McWilliams listening to Marc Douglas Berardo is a compliment. McWilliams didn’t have a long career in America but he did record many albums in England with incredibly good songs -- and had a viable career singing similar songs...his "Marlena" comes to mind.

Marc’s voice is smooth on these tunes but when he allows his voice to narrate his lyrics a little against the grain like on “With Every Passing Day,” I am reminded why I enjoy singers like Buddy Miller and Jon Dee Graham. That sandpaper vocal can sometimes sound just a little more sincere than the high polished vocally trained no imperfections voice. But, with this – it’s not too much grit – a little water with the whiskey so to speak -- but, not watered down. No, not watered-down at all. 

Marc Douglas Berardo is a Rhode Island based musician who obviously absorbed many influences and has shaped them all into a fine, stirring well-balanced presentation. Even the more simple melodies are endearing and relaxing. What is important is the level of optimism that is threaded throughout this collection. Marc is uplifting and expressive.

On “Our Troubles,” he walks the edge of soul music quite effectively. Despite it’s pedal steel guitar weaving through the melody this could easily be a soul hit for any Stax or Motown artist. I actually hear David Ruffin or even Levi Stubbs’ powerful vocals injecting this tune with their own magic.

It’s obvious from a track like “Lightning” that Marc has that live performance talent to tell a story to an audience the way Tom Waits does between tunes. However, this is not between song patter – it’s clever narration about a counter culture character named Lightning. Marc redirects the attention away from just singing songs and tells a stirring little story that's captivating. Especially for those who lived during the era that this tale takes place. Many of these personality-types didn't make it out of their eras and maybe that was the only time they could have existed. Lightning sounds like the type of special eccentric personality that Lord Buckley and Iceberg Slim were.

Abbie Gardner is a delightful addition to some of Marc’s songs. She shines on “My Mistakes,” (dobro & vocal) and returns on “It’s Love,” to provide lap steel guitar and background vocals. John Juxo adds a little more of his non-intrusive musical accordion contour as the tune bounces to its finale. Abbie’s voice with Marc's voice is spendid. This song reminds me of Marc Cohn – it has that "Walking in Memphis," "Silver Thunderbird" richness.

The style of singer-songwriter Marc is, is nothing new. The approach is standard and there are no sweeping orchestras or foot stomping barn burning numbers. But, where is it written that a performer has to singe your ears in order to matter?

Cat Stevens mined these types of melodies, the legendary Gordon Lightfoot too. There are many singer-songwriters that have met success with this genre. Clive Gregson, Richard Thompson, Darden Smith, Boo Hewerdine, Lloyd Cole and countless others. But, listen closely, and they all have a place where their music is their signature. Marc Douglas Berardo has that here on “Whalebone”

The gentle purity of John Juxo’s accordion, Abbie Gardner’s voice and performance, the expressive arrangements, wonderful interplay between all the musicians -- it’s all here. No reason to analyze anything, no secret messages or deep politics. The album is a positive groove with guest appearances that help shape Marc’s inspiring vision. Lincoln Schleifer plays bass on “You Are Already Gone,” and Lincoln has played with Donald Fagen and Roseanne Cash. Abbie Gardner is from Red Molly and Jon Pousette Dart – from the Pousette Dart Band.

There are no current studio videos of tunes from this new album so I decided not to include any videos. MySpace Music has samples of Marc’s fine music and videos may eventually become available for those interested. 




Disclaimer: Support Independent Artists -- The opinion expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression.

John Apice – Contributor – No Depression – December 2013