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MP3 Dan Bern - Breathe

"He''s a folky troubadour with a rock-and-roll heart and the all-too-rare skill of combining humor with intelligence." - Baltimore Sun

10 MP3 Songs
ROCK: Folk Rock, FOLK: Modern Folk

"We live in different worlds right along beside each other."

So sang Dan Bern in one of his early songs. But really we all just live in Dan''s world, and he''s been generous enough to let us believe otherwise all along.

Let''s face it: the man has more stray thoughts, makes more obscure and askant connections, tries on more hats, slips into more pairs of shoes, eavesdrops on more conversations, reads more minds, and hears more voices than the rest of us. And what a lucky break for us that he''s had a pen laying around to document, describe, and share so many of them.

During his already prolific recording career—officially five full-length albums and at least as many EPs released between 1997 and 2005—the singer-songwriter has alternated, oftentimes from one song to the next or even verse to verse, between documenting the zeitgeist and retreating into the personal concerns with which we all grapple. But then, as the old slogan put it, "the personal is the political," and nowhere has that axiom received such a vigorous workout than in the unmistakable music of Dan Bern. His is the closest we have come to a pop music of ideas. On the very first song of his Chuck Plotkin-produced debut album, for instance, he outed himself as the Messiah. His work has only gotten more brazen and brilliant since, whether climbing into or cutting down the cult of celebrity, rewriting literary and cultural history at a whim and to his taste, or drinking in with one great gulp America''s long landscape of idiosyncrasies (New American Language, also helmed in part by Plotkin) in songs that are at once flashy, flaky, unsentimental, comic, contradictory, absurd, dazzling, ornery, sometimes blushingly direct, and sometimes dreamy.

But Bern''s sixth long-playing album, Breathe—which again reunites him with big-league producer Plotkin—is something entirely new for the artist. It takes the personal and finds in it a seedling of renewal. This isn''t music that has ''big balls;'' instead, it has a big, beating heart. In a way, Bern had always been ''arriving'' prior to this, but with this album he has finally Arrived. The songs are not merely preternaturally observant, as they have always been, but feel fully present and made from flesh and blood. They trade in the verbal fireworks of the past and make a touching investment in the lives of their characters, who are often burned out and beat down by their overwhelmed lives—even the Messiah, who reappears in the title track for His third act, seems more than a little downcast—but who nevertheless somehow find the strength and courage to beat back at the world, even if only in small or symbolic ways. With a gesture of selflessness, Dan disappears into these song-sized narratives and allows his characters to voice their own—and, by extension, our shared—lives. In the process, he has given them and his songs and himself a reason to hope. And room to breathe.

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