Better Than Your Average Bob Dylan Disciple

Fleeting Days (Messenger Records)
Dan Bern and the IJBC

By Kevin Gibson

You've gotta love Dan Bern. The politically incorrect, always opinionated, quirky and irrepressible songwriter began gaining fans around the globe (including one named Ani DiFranco) upon making his wide debut in 1997 and he hasn't yet given us a reason to stop buying his albums.

The latest, Fleeting Days, bears little resemblance to the early Bern, but nevertheless is a welcome evolution in style. Whereas Bern was one of about a trillion folk songwriters in the 1990s who drew a Bob Dylan comparison, the Iowa native has infused his music with numerous other styles and flairs for a more well-rounded sound.

One writer compared Bern with Elvis Costello, which isn't a stretch; for we here in the Bluegrass, I would point to former Government Cheese member and current alt-folk-rock-blues-pop songwriter Tommy Womack. Why? Biting, yet often humorous, lyrics; a straight-ahead honesty and a voice that, while not likely to be a winner on "American Idol," grows on you and seems to fit the music.

For Bern, it's just as easy to write a good melody as it is to spin a story or paint a musical picture. The interestingly sacrilegious "Eva" (who is a personification of temptation) is a good balance to some of the melancholy in Bern's lyrics. But it hardly gets better than "Crow," which seems to be a kiss-off to the music business, or perhaps commercial radio: "I spent the last ten years/trying to make your secretary/happy with my style/And now that I've seen your trophies/Excuse me if I laugh a while ... I will not eat crow for you/Or anyone else."

And "Graceland" - which starts of with an ode to (or a parody of) Paul Simon -- moves into a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Elvis Presley. In between are Bern's eccentric stories of heartache, society and even a silly love song ("Jane").

All I can say - and I know I've said it before - is that music like this is damn refreshing in a world in which the music industry is more focused on Christina Aguilera's midriff than it is in songwriting, integrity or (god forbid) originality.