First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2006, Volume 13, #9
Written by John Metzger
Itís not like Dan Bern to craft an album that feels half-baked, but his latest endeavor Breathe never coalesces in quite the same manner as his other recent gems Fleeting Days and New American Language. Though the outing begins and ends in a promising fashion, its middle section not only suffers from a lack of urgency, but it also loses sight of Bernís narrative thread. Tongue-Tied, for example, never succeeds in transcending its appropriations from John Lennonís Real Love, and the Elvis Costello-ish Rain sounds like little more than infectious filler. Granted, throughout his career, Bernís music always has been his weakness, and although he is capable of concocting sturdy melodic refrains, they frequently donít do anything other than to echo the work of Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello, two artists with whom he shares a less-than-desirable singing voice. Typically, though, heís turned his deficiencies into strengths by carefully dismantling the arrangements of his influencesí material and using the parts to support his own sharply worded, stream of consciousness lyrics. Not surprisingly, all four of Breatheís highlights ó Trudy, Past Belief, Feel Like a Man, and the title track ó serve as prime examples of his capacity as a songwriter. On each, Bern is unapologetic about taking what he needs from Dylanís repertoire, and within the compositions, he effectively skewers the corrosive nature of western societyís materialistic culture, even as he searches for something that is more meaningful to satisfy the emptiness in his soul. If the rest of Breathe was as poignant and focused, it might have stood as Bernís finest effort to date. Instead, its awkward execution significantly tempers the forward momentum of Breatheís early moments, making it a frustratingly uneven excursion that vacillates between being wholly essential and pleasantly irrelevant.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box