Cult American singer-songwriter Dan Bern has rewarded his loyal fans with a new album, Drifter. It’s been a whole six years since his last studio album, Breathe. Since then Bern has been hanging in Hollywood, working on movie soundtracks. He hasn’t lost the common touch though. Drifter is a smart collection of touching, funny and heartfelt songs, many of them with a country or folky tinge.
Bern starts off by addressing an issue that’s been bugging him for years: the fact that he can sound a hell of a lot like Bob Dylan. The brilliant Luke The Drifter is full of seemingly throwaway lines that linger, and there’s a touch of asperity in the way he sings "don’t blame me for a crooked nose, that my vocal passage blows a certain way."
Bern recruits a few friends to help out. Emmylou Harris joins Bern for a typically cute ballad, Swing Ball, a bittersweet study of the parental bond. Folk combo Common Rotation flesh out Bern’s sound with backing vocals, strings and brass arrangements.
It’s the lyrics that remain Bern’s singular talent though. The revived oldie Party By Myself is a double-edged tale of escapism and self-deception, while Rainin’ In Madrid is a timely plea to greet an economic slump with a change of lifestyle.
British listeners might occasionally need a glossary to understand some of the lyrical references usually relating to sports personalities. Vin Scully is a US sports commentator, Lebron is a basketball player, Monica Seles you probably know . . .