With the release of his 1997 self-titled debut for Work, along with the label's reissuing of Dog Boy Van, his 1996 indie EP, Dan Bern made the folk music world stand up and take notice (like him or not). Produced by fellow folk iconoclast Ani DiFranco, his third release, Fifty Eggs, extends the musical onslaught he began with those records. DiFranco balances a light touch with forceful sonic ornamentation to draw the most out of the tunes, while Bern, with a reckless abandon, fires phrase after phrase that somehow seem to fall into place when all is said and done. As with his two previous recordings, Bern shines his light on various cultural icons, such as Tiger Woods, Monica Seles, Jesus Christ, and a plethora of "chick singers," most often treating them with empathy, understanding, and wonder, or as pieces in the greater scheme of things and not just easy targets. Stirring numbers such as the touching "Oh Sister" and his paean to tennis star Monica Seles, "Monica," are among his finest, but he seems to misfire with some of the more humorous tracks, which merely come across as better than average novelty songs. A number of clever ideas fail to reach fruition or to call you back like his best work, which would take unexpected turns and reveal new bits of insight with each listening -- songs such as "Cure for AIDS" and "Different Worlds" are interesting enough the first time or two, but grow a bit tiresome with repeated listenings. On the other hand, "No Missing Link" tells the hilarious tale of how an ape's past sexual encounter "of the third kind" created mankind, a theory that he proceeds to back up. Fifty Eggs may not fulfill the promise of Bern's first two efforts, but his somewhat skewed view of the world, along with engaging melodies, a startling poignancy, and his no-holds-barred approach make it worthwhile.
© Brett Hartenbach /TiVo