Santa Fe-based songwriter and author David Berkeley was living in Madrid for the year with his wife and two boys when Corona swept through Spain and the world locked down. They managed to get on one of the last flights back to America in mid-March. They fled the city with barely enough time to pack and clean their apartment. Though they didn’t really have room for it, at the last minute, David grabbed the half-century old Spanish guitar he had bought secondhand on the outskirts of the city. It was lucky he did, for it was on that guitar that he wrote all the songs for his shimmering forthcoming release, Oh Quiet World. With their home rented out through July, David and his family self-quarantined in a friend’s empty house near the Rhode Island coast. He set up a makeshift studio in the attic and began writing and recording songs. “I had begun a few melodies on that old guitar while we lived in Spain,” David says, “but it wasn’t until after we left that I could make any sense of them. I wrote a song a day that first week back. Songwriting gave me a way to process my fears and frustrations. It gave me a purpose, something small I could contribute.” Not surprisingly, these songs are his most intimate, supported by his wife and children’s singing and the most barebone arrangements with touches of horns, accordion, and banjo. Like much of David’s catalogue (he has released eight albums and authored two books), Oh Quiet World manages to find hope through hard times. In fact, the whole album plays like a prayer, beginning with the call to “wake up in the early light” and ending with the word, “amen.”
Oh Quiet World comprises eight original songs and one cover of a traditional Jewish prayer for healing. The “Mi Shebeirach” is a perfect choice for this moment. “This is a song that has meant a great deal to me throughout my life, but I had never considered covering it. I guess it took something like Corona to help bring to the surface that which is deepest in us.” Although the an eerie uncertainty hovers over all of these songs, the collection manages to uplift. “Spring is coming soon”, David sings on the inspiring second track, ‘Gonna Win The War’. “It slips inside these walls. It’s bigger than these rooms. Yeah, Spring is coming soon.” David’s wife, Sarah Davis, and their kids sing on the album’s sweetest song, “Stars and Rain.” It’s a children’s song played on ukulele reminding us that “all of our hearts are made of sky and earth, stars and rain.” Another standout track is the chantlike “Let the Light In.” David sings eight vocal parts with the ethereal mantra about feeling the wonder in every step.
David Berkeley has been a guest on This American Life, and he’s won many songwriting awards and honors including ASCAPs Johnny Mercer Songwriting Award. He is one half of the wildly creative Trans-Atlantic costumed duo Son of Town Hall, and somewhat bizarrely, his music has been remixed by many of the world’s top EDM DJs. Until touring screeched to a halt, Berkeley maintained a near constant performance schedule playing, opening/touring with Dido, Don McLean, Ben Folds, Billy Bragg, Ray Lamontagne, Nickel Creek and many more. He was a Kerrville New Folk winner, a New Song and Rocky Mountain Folks Festival Finalist. He’s performed on Mountain Stage, The World Café, the Sundance Film Festival, South by Southwest, XM Loft Sessions, Acoustic Café, to name a few.
Oh Quiet World is David Berkeley at his stripped back best. And maybe that’s what we’re striving for in these times: When so much of how we thought we defined our lives has been stripped away, what remains? This collection helps us remember what matters. It challenges us to be our best selves and to find the silver within the stillness.
Artist’s website: www.davidberkeley.com
An oldie: ‘This Be Dear To Me’ – official video: