by Dan Cohen
PLEASE NOTE: Due to a power outage, this concert may be cancelled or rescheduled. Please call (845) 358-0877 for updates.
Dean Friedman is a throwback–a singer/songwriter in the classic mold, with echoes of James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and Joni Mitchell cropping up in his extensive catalog. He plays piano as well as guitar, his songs are comic and tender by turn, and to my mind most reminiscent of Dave Frishberg and David Bromberg, the great serio-comic troubadors of the heyday of the singer/songwriter era of the 1960s and ’70s.
You can hear the pride of Paramus, NJ play at RoCA in West Nyack on Sat March 10 at 8p.
It turns out that Bromberg was instrumental in getting Dean his big break, bringing him into the orbit of the Bottom Line, the great, late, lamented Greenwich Village club, back in the heyday of that club’s influence and reach. He signed to a label founded by Bottom Liners and released ‘Ariel,’ a lovely tuneful pop confection that gained some serious airplay on WNEW back 1979. A little bit Leo Sayer with a healthy dash of Jim Croce, Friedman’s supple tenor voice takes on everything from tenderness to heartbreak to comedic songs about smoking weed, all with a tunefulness and humor all but absent in today’s artists.
Friedman spoke fondly of those days at the Bottom Line. I asked him about his musical education and he told me he’d studied theory and arranging at CCNY. “But the Bottom Line–seeing artists like Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Rankin, the Brecker Brothers, night after night–that was my education too.” Friedman said that experience was invaluable to launching his career. “How to put a song across, how to play to an audience, how to play with an audience.”
Not in the Guinness Book of World Records, But It Could Be
Dean Friedman’s breakout hit single, “Ariel,” has been described as a “quirkily irresistible and uncategorizable pop song about a free spirited, music loving, vegetarian Jewish girl,” from Paramus, New Jersey, where he grew up. It is the only Billboard Top 40 song to contain the word Paramus. Source: Wikipedia
His second album, with the somewhat prolix title Well, Well, Said the Rocking Chair… was a big hit in England, and he has continued to have a national media presence there. He tours in the UK at least once a year and enjoys a celebrity that he’s working to match in the States.
While he hasn’t focused on songwriting for others, several of his tunes have been picked up by other bands. The Bare Naked Ladies’ version of Friedman’s “McDonald’s Girl” gave the tune new life and eventually led to it being incorporated into a McDonald’s ad campaign in the early aughts.
The playwright William Gibson once famously said “You can make a killing in the theatre, but you can’t make a living.” Though the same can be said of the present state of music, Dean Friedman gives the lie to that perhaps over-neat epigram. He’s managed to make a rather decent living in music, thank you, by being persistent, relying on his substantial talents, and the devotion of a fan base that’s committed to good, old-fashioned songcraft. He’s written children’s musicals, too, premiering them at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and also created a book and workshop on songwriting craft that he’s taken around the globe.
Dean Friedman makes a stop in our neck of the woods this Saturday evening at ROCA, the Rockland Center for the Arts. It’s a friendly, intimate venue, the perfect place to see a solo set by this intimate, gifted performer. If you’re into melody, into interesting arrangements, into curious and odd and idiosyncratic lyrics that tell a story, you could do no better than to throw yourself back this Saturday into the heyday of singer/songwriters, get a dose of Croce and Taylor and Mitchell mixed in with some of the magic that is Dean Friedman.
RoCA is at 27 South Greenbush Road, in West Nyack, NY.
Tickets are $15.
The ticket buy link is: http://rocklandartcenter.org/performances-special-events/performances-special-events/df-perform.
The venue website is rocklandartcenter.org.
The venue phone is 845-358-0877.
Dan Cohen is a songwriter, music producer, and freelance writer. His reviews and reporting have appeared in SF Weekly, High Country News, the legendary North Conway Mountain Ear, and elsewhere. He performs for kids as Danna Banana. He lives in Nyack.