Silver Jews singer/songwriter David Berman has never sounded more upbeat.
SILVER JEWS with HALLELUJAH THE HILLS at Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor West), Tuesday (September 2), 9 pm. $15. 416-870-8000.
David Berman, the brains behind Nashville's Silver Jews, is known as a recluse. He doesn't do phone interviews any more. Instead he answers questions via e-mail.
"The added social aspect of a phone conversation causes me to give repetitive, short and contradictory stock answers," he writes. "With e-mail interviews, I make every answer different. Otherwise, I say the same thing over and over because there is no time to think of a better one."
While this may the case, it's more likely that Berman's in his element when he's got his fingers on a keyboard or a pen in his hand. Since the singer/songwriter formed the Silver Jews in the late 80s, his lyrical ability has always outshined his skills as a vocalist and guitar player.
But on his new album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, Berman's words are more developed and layered than ever.
On Candy Jail he writes, "Living in a candy jail with peppermint bars, peanut brittle bunk beds and marshmallow walls." It's a funny vision, but there's no denying that the subject matter is dark: the first words of the track are "pain works on a sliding scale."
The album isn't as hauntingly introspective as Tanglewood Numbers, the first album he released after a suicide attempt, but among a number of more upbeat moments, there are plenty of passionate phrases and stripped-down looks at his life.
Musically, Berman has evolved as well. Lookout Mountain is loaded with infectious Johnny Cash-like country tunes, many of which sound optimistic and, well, radio-friendly, like the brilliant Suffering Jukebox. The musician, who spent years battling severe depression, says his lighter attitude is a result of overcoming his demons.
"You tend to be more appreciative of the things in your life when you get back from hell. In that sense, I feel lucky that I can write what I can and what I have. In those other times, I never saw myself as the lucky person I am."
Lookout Mountain may be his most critically acclaimed disc yet, so there's more at play than just luck. Maybe he's put a bit of work into it?
"It used to depress me when I'd read about Raymond Carver writing 100 drafts of a story. I'd think, ‘I could never do that; I guess I can never be a writer.' If you can learn to do it, do it. You have to stay patient and stay working past the point where the song is ‘good enough.' If the song can be taken further, it needs to stay in the shop longer."