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Published: 2003/12/29
by Karl Kukta

self-titled – Dan Reeder

Oh Boy Records 027

Talk about homegrown. On his eponymous debut album, Dan Reeder does
everything save taking the damn thing door-to-door and putting it in your
hand (that job he left to John Prine’s Oh Boy Records). In addition to
writing and producing all 18 songs, Reeder sings his own harmonies, plays
all the instruments (which, by the way, he made himself), and provides the
album’s artwork in a couple of rudimentary sketches and a painting. The
cover shows a cup of coffee spilling; inside is an exhaust pipe in action
with the inscription "Dan ReederThe Power That Comes From Nowhere." The
painting on the back of the CD shows Reeder holding his hand above the flame
of a lighter. They provide a nice primer for listening to the album, which
seeks to entice its audience with a unpretentious simplicity and humor that
is always welcome in new music.

The structure of Reeder’s songs are about as complex as his sketches —
there’s nary a bridge to be found, and a few songs lack even the
verse/chorus combo. This is quiet acoustic music, meant not for the bar
(let alone the amphitheater) but for the living room, the porch, the
campfire. "You can make a mess of the simplest song, and no one will laugh
at you," Reeder sings early on, conjuring up in words the intimacy that is
replicated through the album’s sparse, folksy production and a picture of
his partially-illuminated equipment lined up haphazardly on a couch. But why
the need for such confidence? Does anyone else feel a sermon coming on?

As it turns out, Dan just wants you to have some fun. There’re no songs
here about war crimes in Bolivia or the folly of licentious living, just a
guy with a tweaked sense of humor who knows a couple chords. You can’t help
but chuckle at the (obviously) self-deprecating "My Little Bitty Pee Pee,"
which uses a bluesy shuffle to help accentuate (and perpetuate) a long-held
stereotype; furthermore, what’s not to love about a guy who can write a
love song that quotes Elvis and includes lyrics about fighting with aliens,
not to mention the immortal couplet, "I inject pure kryptonite into my
brain; it helps my kung fu and it eases the pain." You can practically feel
the raindrops squeezing through the holes in the porch roof as he sings
about making buddies with Che Guevara in "Havana Burning" and gripes for the
sake of griping in "Shackles and Chains."

Sometimes, though, the simplicity of Reeder’s song writing lacks charm,
drowned out by redundancy and banality. In "Work Song," a chain-gang chant,
Reeder repeats a single phrase: "I got all the fuckin’ work I need." Yes,
it’s amusing and mildly clever the first couple rounds, but all that is done
gone way before the song ends (a very long 2:17). What we feel here is not
intimacy but amateurism. It’s a slightness that hampers sections of the
album — as on "Po Po Dancing" and two tiresome blues parodies, "The Coolest
Blues Ever" and "The World’s Slowest Blues."

Of course, campfire playing doesn’t much concern itself with professionalism
or innovation, so perhaps my criticism misses the mark. But once music is
put onto CD – a medium for the masses – the context through which one hears
it is inalterably changed, for good or for ill. And yet campfire songs and
CD tracks are alike in that both are meant to be shared. Dan Reeder
sometimes fails to reconcile the ambience that helped create (and is created
by) the music with the format through which this music is being distributed,
but it is also a refreshing reminder of how music can entertain without

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