Five Dan Bern songs to help Americans not succumb to madness | Music Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Five Dan Bern songs to help Americans not succumb to madness

Good news — you might just get to hear them all live next Wednesday, when Dan Bern plays Club Cafe

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You felt it last week, didn’t you — the world lurching drunkenly into an even crazier state of being? Zealots slaughtering Parisians and Lebanese; Americans erupting into a Facebook war because some Syrian refugee somewhere might be a terrorist. How are we supposed to cut through the yelling and find some mental clarity

Provider of mental clarity: Dan Burn - PHOTO COURTESY OF JUDD IRISH BRADLEY
  • Photo courtesy of Judd Irish Bradley
  • Provider of mental clarity: Dan Burn

Here’s a suggestion: music. Songs have the power to clear away all that cacophony: The rhythm helps us breathe calmer and the lyrics refocus us on one cohesive thought at a time. With that in mind, here are five new songs that tackle the American condition head-on.

1. “Welcome,” Dan Bern. So there’s this songwriter, Dan Bern, who’s like the musical version of an incredible bartender you’ve discovered mixing cocktails at an underground speakeasy: His stuff is so good, you can’t believe everyone hasn’t already heard of him. His new album, Hoody, wanders all over the American landscape, scouring town after town and meme after meme in search of harmonious grooves. Hoody’s third track is a fist-pumping anthem that distills our national discontent into a wry scowl: “Welcome, welcome, come and have some fun / We got every Chinese toy under the sun / And every Ponzi scheme that ever has been run / And old men with hard-ons, and mad men with guns.”

2. “Waffle House,” Dan Bern. Well, OK, so it turns out the second song on our list is also a new one from Bern. But that’s OK, because: Is there ever a time when a delicious waffle doesn’t sound like a good idea? Of course not, which is why Waffle House restaurants are open 24 hours a day — and yet, oddly, only half of the country seems to grasp this concept, as there are Waffle Houses in just 25 of the 50 states, mostly in the South. Bern finds both a rockabilly beat and political revelation in this fact: “Might be the bacon-and-cheese-grit diet / Or the sausage that makes folks lean to the right ...”

3. “World,” Dan Bern. Um. This is getting a little embarrassing. How many of these songs are by Dan Bern? This one is a rolling ballad in which the singer suggests taking an intimate getaway to a cabin somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, in an attempt to retreat from all the headaches that wait back in civilization. But: “Every now and then we’ll head out to the deck / Breathe a little oxygen just to check / if the world’s still there, if the world’s still there …”

4. “One Piece at a Time,” Dan Bern. Now, this one was originally a Johnny Cash hit that Wayne Kemp wrote! It’s a snappy country tune about a General Motors factory worker who decides to steal one Cadillac part a day for 25 years until he can assemble his very own Caddy at home. The American Dream! But now Dan Bern sings it. 

5. “Sky,” Dan Bern. Ah, screw it. Hoody ends with one of the most beautiful songs you’ll hear this year, a declaration of joy no matter what the world throws at us. “Long as I can see the sky,” Bern croons, there’s love to be found in life and in each other. It’s good to be reminded. Right now, especially.


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