He’s been described as having a “fresh, defiantly uncompromising style.”
Dan Bern is a bit of a Renaissance man whose ideas manifest themselves as songs, short films, paintings, poems, or sometimes all four.
He’s a throwback to the singer-songwriters of the 1960s folk scene and his style and songs have often been compared to Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.
“They’re the idols of everybody!” Bern exclaims in a phone call from his mother’s home in Iowa, where he was visiting. “Anyone who ever picked up a guitar, started strumming and putting tunes together idolizes them.”
But he claims to be influenced by so much more in his life as well — comedians like Lenny Bruce, the early writing of Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, and even his father, whom he claims “was a funny guy.”
“You use what the greats have given you. It’s up to you to carry it on. We’re all indebted to those who have come before us,” Bern says simply.
Bern, who will perform Friday, March 10, at the Columbus Theatre in Providence, has a “fresh, defiantly uncompromising style,” according to Stereophile magazine editor David Sokol. With two dozen studio albums, EPs and live recordings to his credit in the last 20 years, Bern mixes it up with group performances — he’s reuniting his band, the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy, after a 14-year hiatus — solo work, and recordings that feature artists such as Ani DiFranco and Emmylou Harris.
He also approaches writing with a great diversity of topics. He’s created entire albums devoted to baseball (“Doubleheader”), politics (“My Country II”) and children (“2 Feet Tall”). His songs pay tribute to things vague, like resiliency in “Lifeline,” to the very specific, such as the iconic Los Angeles Dodgers announcer with “The Golden Voice of Vin Scully” and a nod to country stars “Merle, Hank & Johnny” on his 2015 album “Hoody.” A baseball fan, Bern also wrote “Johnny Sylvester Comes Back to Visit the Babe” to tell the legendary story of two of the sport’s greats. He also skewers today’s information-drenched society in “Welcome,” and pricks at politics in the heartland with “Waffle House.”
“’Hoody’ is a really strong record. I think it’s got a lot of elements — old folk, classic country, British Invasion — but it all holds together,” Bern says. “It’s the culmination of what I’ve been aiming at for a long time, and also a jumping off point for everything I’m aiming to do next.”
What’s next might be more political musings from the folk artist, who says he’s trying to figure out how to artistically and theologically add to the discourse surrounding Donald Trump’s presidency.
“I think a more traditional protest song may have fallen short,” he muses. “I’d have to make it a little more satirical, almost abstract, or else it gives the power away and plays into their hands.”
He’s also quietly released another album, called “Adderal Holiday,” a more punk music-sounding collection of songs that he didn’t announce or promote beyond sales at concerts.
“It was a time factor, where I recorded it right before I moved, but it was kind of freeing in a way to do it like that!” he says. “I made the decision fast and didn’t second-guess anything, or feel like I was waiting for this person, or that person. I just trusted my instincts.”
— Susan McDonald is a regular contributor to The Providence Journal. She can be reached at Sewsoo1@verizon.net.
If you go
What: Dan Bern, with special guest John Faraone
Where: Columbus Theatre, 270 Broadway, Providence
When: 8 p.m. Friday, March 10
Tickets: $17 in advance, $20 day of the show