Episode 96: Dan Bern
Air date: 12.4.2013
Being compared to Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie is one thing, and lots of musicians have borne that lofty burden. But it’s entirely another to live up to the reasons Dylan and Guthrie can be referred to with a single name. Modern day troubadour Dan Bern has earned a place at the grown up songwriter’s table many times over. He’s prolific, having written hundreds of songs. His deft use of language spans from seemingly tossed off simple songs in which his incisive wit cuts right through the pretensions of lesser writers, to political parables and revelatory personal reflections – all of which are delivered with a captivating but affable stage presence. He has released nearly twenty albums since he got his start in the mid-90s and continues to write and perform all over the country. His latest release is an eight-song collection of songs about Hannukuh, called, appropriately, Hannukuh Songs. Bern thankfully avoids the typical egregious sins of musical excess that plague many Christmas albums, and instead delivers a handful of short, simple songs that serve as a sort of primer for the Festival of Lights. Traditional Jewish foods and rituals, some religious history lessons, family recollections, a whimsical take on the various spellings for the holiday and the tale of a Jewish trucker who spends his Hannukuh at Waffle House restaurants while traveling around the American South – are all given the same stripped down, acoustic folk treatment. You won’t hear a lot of Hannukuh songs while shopping at the mall this holiday season, but all the artists who release schlocky Christmas albums year after year could learn a lot from Bern’s perfect mix of whimsy, heart and wit.