Being labeled "Dylanesque" can be the ultimate kiss of death for an artist, but Dan Bern has achieved something worthy of Mr. Zimmerman on his fourth album. While his voice is a more agreeable version of Dylan's nasal pinch and his songwriting often has the same epic sweep, Bern's previous albums have been largely shallow affairs.
However, "New American Language" explores themes of loss and violence amid the clamor of popular culture with a tone that's a bit more serious, but never stuffy. Buoying his lyrics with pleasing, AOR-style rock and quieter folk-pop, Bern writes about meeting Leo DiCaprio and Keith Richards in the epic "Alaska Highway" and even does a little '50s rave-up in "HoneyDoo!" While Bern occasionally overreaches, at least you know he's really trying, which is more than you can say for most bands today. And when he hits, he's something wonderfully unique -- can you say Bernesque?