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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Artist: Dan Bern
Label: Messenger Records
Length: 13 Tracks/53:17
Dan Bern might be the most controversial folk artists recording today. He's easily the funniest. In the great tradition of artists such as Phil Ochs and Woody and Arlo Guthrie, Dan Bern produces entertaining and often moving music that doesn't take itself too seriously and pokes fun at everything from religion to politics to history to science. If I had to describe what Dan Bern plays in one word it would be American-Post-Modern-Humorous-Social-Commentary-Folk-Jamboree Music. Obviously, with a description like that, not everyone will be a fan but there will be those who consider him a genius. I am of the latter opinion.
More so than even his last album, New American Language, Fleeting Days is a brilliant example of Bern's range from funny to serious to sad - often all in the same song. This album displays his ability to write simple, solid songs that you can both laugh and cry with and sing along all at the same time better than any of his previous records. While fans of his early riotous jaunts might not enjoy this album as much, it demonstrates how much Bern has grown both musically and lyrically while continuing to write a prolific number of songs.
Bern sounds like somewhat of a cross between Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan with a nasally delivery. In fact, on "Fly Away" he sounds very much indeed like Bob Dylan singing a song that Bob Dylan could have very easily written. On "Eva" he sounds uncannily like Elvis Costello. Another song, "Chain Around My Neck" sounds like something the Lost Dogs might play as a rocker. "Graceland" is about the other famous Elvis and his impact on America and other songwriters.
Even if the rest of the album did not offer any redeeming songs, I would have to recommend this album for the last track, "Soul." It's a very simple, yet powerful song which asks, "Are you gonnna follow your soul/Or just the style of the day?" But the truth is, while it's not perfect, there just isn't a bad song on this album.
While his lyrics might seem random at first, it becomes increasingly clear that Bern literally paints verbal pictures by linking various people, events and scenes from everyday life. Whether he's making a statement or asking a question, Dan Bern is a songwriter who doesn't pull any punches. I recommend taking a listen to this album, but the real trick is to see him in concert.
Darryl A. Armstrong 03/30/03