Record Review - 2 September 16 2004

Political songwriting is a perilous endeavor. Too often songwriters forget about little things like nuance, subtlety, humor, or even melody in order to hit the listener over the head with his or her particular political view.

Folk troubadour Dan Bern avoids the pedantic pitfalls that can make political music unlistenable by infusing the songs on his new EP, My Country II, with as much humor and melody (thanks to his backing band, the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy) as rage. Imagine an American Billy Bragg who listens to a lot of Bill Hicks and you’ve got Bern. In his hilarious first cut, “President,” he discusses what he would do his first 10 days as president. Besides health care for everyone and collective farming, he would also impose National Stoned Day and National Nude Day. The remaining seven songs are all rants against Bush, his policies, and the apathetic folks who let him get away with it. He somehow manages to make “After the Parade” — about an injured veteran who wonders who is going to push his wheelchair after the festivities end — more heart wrenching than hokey. Most of the stuff here includes enough humor or pathos to rise above self-righteous drivel. Not every cut works, such as the overly repetitive “Bush Must Be Defeated,” but even on that tune he deserves credit for rhyming the title with the line “His White House bed short-sheeted.”

-- Al Kaufran

Dan Bern, with Ani DiFranco, plays the Tabernacle, Sun., Sept. 19, 8 p.m. $27.50.