Rhythm & Views

Silver Jews

Head Silver Jew David Berman is something like a Billy Collins in waiting. Sure, one was the nation's poet laureate, and the other is a recently reformed crackhead--but they have one trait in common: Both are poets who write poetry for people who don't like poetry. Berman's book of poems, Actual Air, has sold 15,000 copies, not bad when you consider how few people actually buy poetry.

With Tanglewood Numbers, the slightly twangy Silver Jews have made the jump from self-consciously lo-fi to full-on fleshed-out production. Steve Malkmus' trademark guitar sound is in full effect, as is Berman's wife, Cassie, whose voice serves as a welcome counterpoint to Berman's flat but charming delivery. Just as no one ever listened to Bob Dylan for a catchy melody (though he has many), the reason one listens to Silver Jews is to revel in Berman's witty lyrics, and he certainly doesn't disappoint here. He's the king of pomo bons mots: "Where does an animal sleep when the ground is wet? / Cows in the ballroom, chickens in the farmer's Corvette," and "I've been workin' at the airport bar / It's like Christmas in a submarine."

Somehow Berman ensures that this sort of cleverness doesn't come off as too clever; the songs here, in all their witticism, never seem like jokes. They're just some of the most smartly literate songs any of us have heard in a while, rendered in a more easily digestible format than Silver Jews fans have come to expect. And who can argue with that?

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