Written by: Alex Green
Over the course of his career, folk rocker Dan Bern has proven to be in possession of an inexhaustible supply of songs.
Training his keen critical eye on everyone from Tiger Woods to Kurt Cobain and openly ruminating about ex-girlfriends, famous painters and stabbed tennis players, from the beginning Bern’s songwriting has always been gleefully conversational and verbose. That being said, it’s odd on his new album Breathe to hear him contritely admit, “Sorry I’m a little tongue tied.”
It’s a relief, however, to learn that this is not exactly true.
But now into his late thirties, something about Dan Bern is different; contemplative and even somber in spots, Breathe finds Bern confronting the lifespan of heroes, the range of love, and the limits of his body. Rife with responsibility, vulnerability and confession, on Breathe a much more adult Bern steps forward to take stock of his mistakes (“Trudy”) and strike a deal with God for a peaceful night’s sleep (“Past Belief”). Particularly moving is “Suicide Room,” where Bern tries to break the curse of a hotel room where people keep taking their own lives, by just getting through the night. From the confines of the cursed locale Bern confesses, “…figure if I can’t beat this world, maybe I can beat this room.” It may be a small victory on the surface, but Breathe is all about winning these types of battles. Later, the title track revisits “Jerusalem” from his first album, and “Feel Like A Man” returns to his father’s death, a subject first broached on “Oh Sister” from Fifty Eggs.
It’s a Dan Bern record, so of course there are still celebrity sightings (Marlon Brando shows up in “Feel Like A Man”) and his humor is still intact—in fact, it’s the calculator he’s always used to do his existential long division—but the older and wiser Bern is one who cops to admitting, “I’m willing to go on faith, but I’m past belief.”
In other words, there are no answers here—he’s looking for them just like you.