Dan Reeder

This New Century

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It's not a surprise that Americana icon John Prine signed Dan Reeder to his Oh Boy label. Both are crusty-voiced singers who pen dark-humored tales about the odd ways of man. Listen to "Maybe" here and it's easy to hear the shared sensibility. This wonderfully quirky rumination of death features Reeder talking about various people he's known who have died (like Dieter who "you could call [him] on the phone and he would tell you that he's not home" two weeks after his death) while also philosophizing about mortality ("maybe you'll come back some day as a king prawn/maybe angels come and take you away to heaven or the other way/but for down here it appears that when they're gone/they're gone"). These lines exemplify what Reeder does best: teeter between darkly comic observations and more cosmic ones. Reeder's songs, however, come off more like vignettes, or anecdotes, rather than Prine-like short stories. "Maybe," for example, is the longest cut here, clocking in at 3:43. By keeping his bluesy folk songs brief, Reeder can make his observations and then move on to the next one. Some of his more effective tunes are also the ones that seem the simplest, but these actually hold a subtle depth. With just a few lines in "Everybody Wants a Cookie," he shows how differently people behave even when they agree on something. "Beachball" seems like a little ditty about a lost beachball, but there's also a sense of real-life danger with the recurring line: "the guard at the gate has a gun and a phone and a radio." "Long Ago" wonderfully captures how a man waiting for a bus can let his mind can wander to more cosmic things (like Earth's origins). "James Brown Is Dead and Gone" basically repeats three lines over and over, but it conveys his sincere sense of loss about Brown's death. Death and angels appear throughout this disc, although, with Reeder's droll sense of humor, angels may "on a good day…feed you ravioli right out of the can." His humor turns more ribald on the hilarious "She Won't Even Blow," a fingersnapping number built around the punch line: "she won't even blow me on my birthday." Like Prine, Reeder's understated delivery helps to set up his knockout lyrics. Sometimes Reeder's imagery can get too esoteric, making songs like "Fireball" and "I've Been Hiding" a bit hard to decipher without footnotes, despite some vivid imagery. He's more effective on irascible rants like the title track and "Two Songs That I Know," which concludes the disc with him sweetly picking "Heart and Soul." Another part of this disc's charms is its homemade quality. Not only did Reeder play and sing all the parts as well as produce and record this disc, but he also built some of the instruments. The raspy-voiced Reeder may be a bit of an acquired taste, but he's a uniquely talented songwriter who is well worth discovering, particularly for fans of John Prine and Randy Newman.

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