April 15, 2017
“Dan Bern is a throwback, a singer-songwriter who marvels at life’s beauty, fragility, and complexity with a fresh, defiantly uncompromising style. In a perfect world, he’d be as beloved as Dylan or Lennon… he’s that good!” So wrote Stereophile magazine contributing editor David Sokol for that publication’s popular Records To Die For feature several years back.
A remarkably prolific songsmith, Dan has released some two dozen studio albums, EPs, and live recordings since his first acclaimed Sony-distributed CD in 1997. Either fronting the prodigiously talented band Common Rotation, or as a solo performer, he is comfortable and convincing, funny and topical, with an unassuming tip-of-the-hat to the spirits of Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, The Beatles, and a young Bob Dylan… all while sounding thoroughly original and 21st-century.
Whether writing about stepping back and appreciating the world around us (“Breathe”), or celebrating the venerable voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers (“The Golden Voice of Vin Scully”), Dan’s songs are always literary, sometimes funny, and often cinematic. And it’s not uncommon at a Dan Bern concert to see and hear fans unabashedly singing along to one song after another, with no prompting from the stage.
Dan Bern recordings have featured a host of artists, ranging from Ani DiFranco to Emmylou Harris, and he’s devoted entire albums to baseball (Doubleheader), politics (My Country II), and little kids (2 Feet Tall). His singular songwriting has led to stints working on such projects as the Judd Apatow features Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story starring John C. Reilly, and Get Him to the Greek (starring Russell Brand). His songs have appeared in numerous TV shows, and he recently penned the theme song for the Amazon cartoon The Stinky and Dirty Show.
Dan’s newest full-length studio album, Hoody, came out in early 2015. The album was recorded primarily in Los Angeles at Pehrspace in the Echo Park neighborhood. Featuring one of his most engaging and eclectic collections of songs, with support from Common Rotation, Hoody digs deeply into Dan’s affinity for country, rock, and folk; with a punch and poignancy rarely heard these days. And his voice has never sounded richer and more powerful. The record has a warm, organic feel, with the band usually performing together in the same room, at the same time. Beside Dan, who plays acoustic and electric guitars and some harmonica, musicians on the album include Adam Busch (drums, harmonica), Jordan Katz (trumpet, banjo), Eric Kufs (lap steel, vocals), Johnny Flaugher (bass), Eben Grace (guitar), and George Sluppick and Tripp Beam (drums). And Hoody was co-produced by Dan with his old friend Greg Prestopino, whose long list of credits includes co-writing Matthew Wilder’s ubiquitous Top 5 hit, “Break My Stride” from 1983. Says Dan, “The way we recorded the stuff was a bit rough in spots, and Greg was able to massage it really well.” Hoody is filled with highlights and surprises, including “Lifeline”, a stunning up-tempo country-rocker. The song, which soberly celebrates resiliency, features guest vocals by original Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson, and Common Rotation lap-steel guitarist Eric Kufs, who co-wrote the song with Dan. And somehow Dan holds one particularly challenging note for 20 seconds toward the end of the song.
Hoody is fresh and contemporary, and certainly deserves to be heard… a lot. Dan is clearly standing on the shoulders of giants as he observes the world around him, and puts all the bustle and the craziness into perspective. He’s a songwriter’s songwriter and a lyrical genius with a huge, optimistic heart, as anyone who’s heard his songs can attest to. (Who else could write songs as diverse and pithy as “The Fifth Beatle”, “Osama in Obamaland”, and “Year-By-Year Home Run Totals of Barry Bonds”?)
Like we said, Dan Bern is a throwback to the days of exemplary songs and extraordinary songwriters. He’s one of the very best, and we sure could use more of his kind these days.
“Dan Bern strums drop-dead gorgeous melodies like a demon with his tail on fire; and expresses his love for humankind through scabrous, literary, skeptical rhymes full of hyper articulation and the tormented self-knowledge of the really, really smart.” –Washington Post
“With his acoustic guitar and a batch of witty and insightful songs, Dan Bern is rapidly becoming the voice of a new generation of folk music.” –NPR
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