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New American Language

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Album Review

Like Jim White's contemporaneous No Such Place, Dan Bern's New American Language attempts to reconfigure the American cultural landscape by appropriating images and converting them to the mysterious currency of strange folk music. Stylistically, Bern is firmly in the tradition of the folk revival, with a significantly more electric sound than on his previous releases. There is more than a little bit of Bob Dylan's pitched moan in his voice, drawing out vowel sounds on the resonant nouns, imbuing the delivery with the high-status illusion of a deeper meaning, even if it is pure nonsense. The album-closing "Thanksgiving Day Parade" is a direct homage to the form of Dylan's epic poem-song "Desolation Row," describing a literal procession of esoteric images and obscure characters whose meanings are defined simply by being drawn in the same scene. It is a fitting album-closer. Throughout the disc, nicely colored instruments join Bern's in the mix, including Wil Masisak's myriad keyboards, Eben Grace's guitar and banjo, Paul Kuhn's violin, and many others. On the last track, the instruments join the cavalcade one by one, building to a glorious crescendo. If Bern has a weakness, it is his smugness, but it is one that is easily forgivable in light of his haunting wordplay and sense of American expansiveness.

Biography

Born: 27 July 1965 in Mount Vernon, IA

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '90s, '00s

With the release of his 1997 self-titled debut, Iowa native Dan Bern became the latest, following the likes of John Prine, Elliott Murphy, Steve Forbert, Loudon Wainwright III, and numerous others, to wear the "new Dylan" mantle. With an acoustic guitar, a batch of sharp, witty, insightful songs, and a delivery reminiscent of the man himself, Bern left his home in the Midwest for L.A., where he assaulted the local folk scene. He subsequently made his way to various clubs and festivals nationwide,...
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New American Language, Dan Bern
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