Dave Bernabo is a quiet giant. Unobtrusively striding about his business, he churns out volumes of subdued, left-field pop without making much fuss, except for a smattering of regional coverage.
Touring with local alt-country act Boxstep straight out of high school, Bernabo broke off with Boxstep's drummer, Greg Cislon, to form prolific indie-popsters Vale and Year. The duo's imagination proved so fertile that they've released over a half-dozen albums in only three years.
Bernabo brings that same wide-eyed zeal to his first proper solo release, Word Roses, warmly hand-packaged by indie/folk exponent Sort Of Records. Once you get accustomed to his quirky, quavering vocal style, you'll enjoy riding through his introspective lyrical scenarios, which sometimes dwell on the rustic ("red lights on a pickup truck") and other times on self-torture ("I wanted to kill you in the night, with a knife or my hands" or "I'm in hell / in flames").
The musical approach on Word Roses (where Bernabo plays absolutely all the instruments) veers from Afro-beat-ish folk-pop ("Pick a Phone") to mellow front-porch finger-picking ("I'm Yours," "Dance With") to bouncy keyboards with subtle studio tweaking ("Commentary"). Songs are short and to the point, and the sensitive, vulnerable persona Bernabo weaves is appealing on both intellectual and emotional levels (hey, ladies!).
Yet, pop tendencies aside, another weapon in Bernabo's arsenal aches for further R&D. He dedicates the final instrumental track ... a droney, plinking piece not unlike Jim O'Rourke's music ... to recently deceased British free-improv guitarist Derek Bailey. With such a monumental hero, here's hoping his next solo effort expands more into that exploratory area. After all, the world is full of competent singer-songwriters, but one who can also transform a guitar into pure sound sculpture is still a rare breed.