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New American Language
Artist: Dan Bern
Label: Messenger Records
Time: 12 tracks/60:23

Have you ever wondered what Bob Dylan would sound like with a dark sense of humor? Hailing from Santa Monica, CA comes Dan Bern, a singer/songwriter with a distinctive style. Although hardly a contender for any mainstream airplay, let alone any top 40 hits, his music is catchy and you might even find yourself singing along to some of the songs.

Actually, New American Language is Dan Bern's fourth full length album and is certainly his most refined. He's been compared to Bob Dylan who has certainly been a musical and lyrical influence. This album was co-produced by Chuck Plotkin who has worked with both Dylan and Bruce Springsteen in the past. But comparing Bern to Dylan doesn't adequately convey Bern's style of music. There are obvious similarities between their vocal styles and instrumentation and even subject matter, however Bern has quite a knack for humor which he makes ample use. 

On previous albums his wit at times fell into absurdities and even, what might be considered to some, bad taste. On this album he is more subdued and still manages to bring out a smile while contemplating some serious subject matter ­ not a simple feat to be pulled off and still be taken seriously. Bern contemplates the meaning of love, time and broken dreams thoughtfully yet wistfully and incorporates enough personal information to make you feel comfortable listening.

Pop culture references abound and everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to the Surgeon General to McDonald's aren't safe from comment. Although after a few listens it's obvious that Bern is not merely commenting on public icons, but also those who make them icons. 

Songs like "Tape" comment on the deteriorating state of American culture: 

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
 While the title track offers a chorus of hope:
I have a dream of a/
New American Language/
I dream of new beginnings/
I dream of saturation bombing/
I dream mostly about love
"God Said No" is actually a rather poignant song about changing the past, conveyed in classic Bern-esque prose. "Alaska Highway," "Toledo" and the closing track, "Thanksgiving Day Parade" are all full of wit and wisdom from a promising singer/songwriter who certainly has the potential for all the Bob Dylan comparisons he keeps receiving. If you're a fan of Bob, Mark Heard, Bill Mallonee, folk rock or Weird Al Yankovic (!!) You might want to give Dan Bern a listen. 

Darryl A. Armstrong (10/21/2001)



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