The tender, introspective tunes that Montreal chamber-folk singer/songwriter Mark Berube pens wouldn't normally be described as "funky." But that's exactly what he pulled off with his Afrobeat-inspired single My Me Lady from his new album, June In Siberia (Aquarius).
With an urgent groove reminiscent of Nina Simone's See-Line Woman, the song takes his folk sound in a brand new direction yet still fits nicely into the album.
"I realized toward the end of the sessions that I wanted to have one song that was more upbeat," recalls Berube as his tour van rolls through the Maritimes. "My drummer, Pat [Dugas], and I started grooving on something and recorded it the very next day.
"I've always loved songs that start with a groove and then impose a vocal melody on top. I want to explore more of that now. It's funny how these little gifts come to you from out of nowhere and can spark a different trajectory."
Berube adds that he and his Patriotic Few don't usually write in the studio, since it's too expensive. The rest of June In Siberia was written beforehand to take full advantage of recording to tape. The medium is preferred by many for its warmth, but recording on old equipment isn't as cheap or as easy as going digital.
"Digital recordings can get pretty darn close in terms of sound quality these days, but there's also the psychological effect of recording to tape. You have to concentrate more. You get two or three takes and that's it. I love that. [With digital] there's a tendency to kill songs by going into Pro Tools and ‘perfecting' them too much."
The smaller number of collaborators also contributes to the album's pleasing immediacy and warmth. Unlike on previous recordings, Berube kept the embellishments and cast to a minimum, focusing on the four-person lineup he takes on tour. While the swooping string sections are gone, the songs retain a large, lush sound, each instrument and voice captured in pristine detail.
"Live, the songs transfer well. They pretty much sound like they do on the album. Sometimes it's better to go smaller than bigger. You get a stronger presence in the songs, which was basically the goal."
The added intimacy suits Berube's songwriting style and highlights the skill of the Patriotic Few. As he's done for the production, he's pared back his lyrics, focusing less on big issues and politics and more on "domestic" narratives and everyday stories. Sometimes smaller really is bigger.