New American Language – Dan Bern
Messenger Records 09
Dan Bern is a witty guy. The lyric sheet on this release is barely
necessary, because the well-crafted lines of each track grab one's
attention. As well, the band is tight, and the selections here are varied
Bern's vocals resemble an edgier Roger McGuinn, which is a suitable analogy
for his songs. Some of them strongly resemble 60s Dylan, but Bern adds a
Gen-X perspective (two different songs use the expression "whatever"). It
may seem unfair to compare any songwriter to Dylan, but Bern asks for it
with the Desolation Row-styled 10-minute closer Thanksgiving Day
Parade. One comes away from this with more comprehensible observations
and jokes than many of Dylan's songs (would Dylan have written a line like
"The band is in an uproar/Only the drum machine's been paid" and then
started the next verse by claiming that "Australians are the coolest people
in the world"?), but this is a double-edged advantage. There's less of a
sense that there's more here than what's on the surface.
The song where Bern best addresses that problem is Albuquerque
Lullaby. The verses are a seemingly unrelated series of anecdotes that
veer into some bitter territory (a friend "talks of his glory days/I say no
one cares about your glory days"), but the chorus offers a lovely melody
while Bern sings, "Don't let your heart get broken by this world."
As for the rest — well, the closest thing to a misstep is Tape, the
sort of cynical social commentary that might be a tough sell post-9/11/01.
(Bern comments "If the Manson gang had done their thing this year, 'stead of
'69/They'd be on page eleven, with the rest of the petty crime.")
Perhaps it's best to forget about the Dylan comparison issue and just enjoy
Bern's wit and craft, which he offers in abundance on this CD.