music: Talking Back 

Folk rocker Dan Bern not only sings his songs, he listens to them.

Bern began to sense these fine points early-on, and from the time he got his first guitar at 14, he preferred to seek his own sound. His latest CD "New American Language" continues this search with a new progression of lyrical vision and musical arrangements. Bern returns to Ashland Coffee & Tea Wednesday, May 22, with music from "Language" and other favorites. He also has a batch of new material written on the road.

"We're working [new songs] in. That's almost a given," he says describing his live show.

Since he hit the road full time in 1995, Bern has worked steadily, performing wherever the road leads. He takes the odd day off — "We did get to opening day [of baseball season] in Cincinnati this year" — and has down time to record. With no wife or kids in his New Mexico home, he is committed to a road musician's life. This particular tour finds him playing coast to coast, and in June he's off to Europe. Some gigs are solo shows while some add a band. Dan admits to having no clue about the Ashland format, but it is booked as a solo show.

Bern says the harmonies of the Beatles and the songs of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello first caught his attention as a youth. After leaving his parents' Iowa home, Bern hit the folk scenes of Los Angeles and Chicago in the early '90s. He often supported himself by teaching tennis on public courts, but it was always the music that mattered.

"I always took it pretty seriously. I wasn't in it for the money … for whatever reason, it was important to me."

He landed a record deal in Los Angeles, but it wasn't until he began touring that his career gelled.

"None of that wider success happened until I started driving around. You can't read a book and figure out how to do this," he says.

Bern's fifth CD reveals that he is figuring things out just fine. The songs are full of lyrical left turns that somehow cut a straight path to the heart, delivered in an early Dylan via Roger McGuinn pinched-vocal moan that equally suits the rocked-up "Alaska Highway" and the thoughtful ballad "Albuquerque Lullaby."

"From my standpoint, it's been a slow thing…[but] I'm pretty pleased. We're pretty much on schedule for where we oughta be." S

Dan Bern plays Ashland Coffee & Tea, Wednesday, May 22 at 8 p.m. Call 798-1702 for information.


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