What the River Gave the Boat
Have you heard the story of what the river gave the boat? It's an old story, maybe one of the oldest. It's a folktale no one knows. Mark Berube's stirring fourth album arrives just in time for a world that seems to be closing in. The first half of a double album (it's companion record will be What the Boat Gave The River), this eclectic songbook courses with rebellious sincerity as it floats past bombed-out war zones, inti- mate heartbreaks and the border police who would demand to see it's papers. Backed by a string quartet, upright bass, percussion, dobro, trumpet, accordion and acoustic guitar, What The River Gave The Boat is anchored in Berube's folk-inspired piano and striking vocals. Perched on this raft of ivory and strings, his tales of urban saints and rural rubble drift through the places where we've already paid (New York City, London, Berlin) to the places where we still owe (Swaziland, Croatia). They re- mind us that we are all linked by an endless stream of stories, even when the distances between us seem unfathomable. Berube is the perfect guide for these sometimes harrowing, always beautiful journeys. Born in Brandon, Manitoba and raised in southern Africa, Berube is a vagabond in the worldwide musical circus who draws little spiritual distinction between the developing and the developed world. His haunting voice has a universal vitality that is both unique and strong; a member of the music press once dubbed him "Nina Simone's baritone brother." He started young, honing his voice with gospel songs every day before school in Swaziland, while the South African police tapped his family's phones and sifted through their mail. This record vaults Mark Berube into a high class of musical maturity and lyrical precision. He asks us to remember one of the last reigning monarchs in the world, to learn the wisdom and complexity of a man from Northern India singing the praises of Bob Dylan while dining in a Korean restaurant, to imagine ourselves on the train at the last minute in a doomed subway tunnel, to paint a Japanese woman in a white satin dress thrashing behind Toronto drums, to dream ourselves digging graves in a farmer's field, to understand that all our families are wanted by the police, to picture a place where the fear needs a haircut but the barber shop is closed. Most wisely of all, Berube allows us our playfulness. He asks us to sit back and watch as a pretty little bird makes love to a dove without the glove. This album is a rowboat on a steadfast river flowing through tomorrow's troubled headlines. It is a human heart pulling it's oars through the modern world and setting it aglow. If you haven't heard the story of What The River Gave The Boat, I suggest you listen closely. Looking at the newspaper this morning, all alone in my tiny kitchen, I have a feeling it has arrived just in time. Andrew Westoll, Toronto, Fall 2006.