Folkies in the know have been anticipating Dan Bern's recently issued, self-titled debut since he twice rolled into the East Bay's Freight & Salvage last year and reportedly wowed audiences with a lone six-string, a spare harmonica, and an arsenal of creative rambles on the human condition. With his contemporary odes to love, loneliness, alienation, power-tripping, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the binding ties between a man and his four-legged friend, Bern fares at the top of the haystack as far as back-roads singer/songwriters go.
His best lyrics offer the voice of the common Joe. On "Go to Sleep," he wails upon the Tuvans, of all people: "Enough of this throat-singing already/ If you wanna sing two notes at once ... get a multitrack machine." The charming pop ditty "Marilyn" furthers this tack by fantasizing about everyone's favorite pinup with a writer who'd have done her good: "Marilyn Monroe didn't marry Henry Miller ... but if she did, he'd have taken her to Paris/ Tied her to the bed/ And eaten dinner off of her/ And OK maybe she'd have died the same anyway/ But if she did, she'd have had more fun."
The pop-steady drumbeats and lightweight arrangements on those tracks with multiple players start to sound tediously "adult contemporary" by album's end, but it's likely Mr. Bern's traveling solo for this San Francisco engagement. And while it ain't Greenwich Village-era Dylan, it ain't Tuvan throat-singing either.