Dan Bern must be prescient. The songs on his new CD elaborate on the new social American landscape post-September 11 with eerie accuracy.
For instance, take “God Said No,” where he tells of meeting God and volunteers to go back in time and undo the misdeeds of Curt Cobain, Hitler, and Christ’s crucifixion. In every case, Bern presents God’s lucid arguments for not going back to change history. God leaves him with this: “Time belongs to me. Time’s a secret weapon, my final advantage.” Not the sort of deep thoughts you expect in pop music.
Bern reminds one of a young Bob Dylan. He writes songs that contain graphic literal meanings and powerful poetic overtones. His lyrics mate perfectly with his basic folk-inspired melody lines. The result on songs like “Black Tornado” is a rock anthem worthy of Bruce Springsteen (“And I could do tonight with something soft and furry. But that ain’t likely to occur in south central Missouri…”) New American Language is funny, sad, quirky, and profound, all at once.
The core band on New American Language consists of Wil Masisak on keyboards, Eben Grace on guitar, Colin Mahoney on drums, Brian Schey on bass, and Paul Kuhn on bowed string instruments. Randy Kaplan and Lisa Donnelly join Bern as background vocalists on a “Black Tornado” and “New American Language.”
Unlike many small-label productions, New American Language sounds first-rate, I suspect in large part to Dave Glasser’s mastering effort. Glasser is rapidly becoming many small labels’ secret weapon in keeping up, sonically, with the majors.
New American Language satisfies musically while challenging the intellect. And it’s encouraging to know pop music is not all about easy subjects handled in simplistic ways. This album has made me a fan of Dan Bern.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.