Dan Bern

New American Language

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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.

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