In the summer of 2002, Dan Bern and his International Jewish Banking Conspiracy bandmate Brian Schey (aka Slim Nickel) lit out for Europe for a quick acoustic tour of the old continent. World Cup is a mixed-media document of that barnstorming trek combining a travel diary kept by Bern and a CD-EP of five new songs written along the way. The recordings were made simply, sparely, and on the fly, and as such have a wearied, slightly scruffy quality. They are stripped-down and stoic, yet every bit as lyrical, romantic, swooning, and imbued with the troubadour spirit, if not the sound, of Bern's temporary surroundings. Only "Suicide" is something of a throwaway; the other four are top-drawer songs indeed. "All Right Kind of Girl," with its lovely backwoods harmonizing, and "My Love Is Not for Sale" are particularly fine, filled with tangibly felt imagery. Although the comparison came too easily in the past, Bern on these two tunes really does inescapably recall and match the Dylan of Freewheelin' and Another Side: quixotic and unsentimental, restless but resolved, heartfelt but non-committal, detached but affecting. Truly humane, deeply textured songwriting. An equal treat to the music, however, is the slim diary itself. Bern fills its pages with sketches, scattered observations, piecemeal lyrics, and even genuine fiction, while going through the range of moods, from grouchy, groping, and spent to probing and perpetually curious. Even when bits fall flat, as they occasionally do, World Cup provides a fascinating peak -- perhaps even some insight -- into the workings of the beautiful mind of one of rock's most important artists.
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AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart