Dan Bern

Live in Los Angeles

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Dan Bern has built his career on the strength of his live shows and his relentless touring, but he resisted the urge to put out a live record until late in 2010. Live albums are notoriously hard to market, and in the day when record labels dominated the music business, they were often ploys to make a bit of cash while waiting for an artist's next "real" album. Being an independent artist, Bern doesn't have those concerns, and when he made his live albums (Live in Los Angeles and its companion piece, Live in New York), he went about it in his own fiercely independent way. Live in Los Angeles, a showcase for Bern and his guitar, has 18 tracks -- almost an hour and a half of music -- with nine songs Bern has never recorded and one familiar tune from the soundtrack of Walk Hard, the stunning love song "Beautiful Ride." There are a lot of Bern hits here, including "Tiger Woods" and "Too Late to Die Young," but it's the new tunes that make this album a keeper. "Most American Men" dissects males' concerns with breast and penis size, among other matters, with keen insight and arch humor. "Fascist" examines the rage that well-meaning people can feel when they're faced with everyday irritations and rudeness; it's a more visceral version of Phil Ochs' "Love Me I'm a Liberal." Bern shows his more romantic side on "Party by Myself," a sad portrait of a guy trying to survive a drinking problem and a dead-end job. The only tracks that don't really work are the topical tunes "Osama in Obamaland" and "The Fifth Beatle." Bern retired "Osama" the day after Navy Seals assassinated Bin Laden. It traces Osama's underground life in the U.S. -- he hangs out with George Bush, who teaches him to "speak American," and hires O.J. Simpson's lawyers to get him acquitted of all charges. "The Fifth Beatle" touches on the band's breakup and what might have happened if they'd stayed together (and alive) to make albums with Dylan, Hendrix, and Neil Young. Bern used a similar conceit years ago on "Talkin' Woody, Bob, Bruce and Dan Blues" to better effect.

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