An awful lot of really bad things are done by people who are supposed to be the good guys. And a lot of really good music has been written about it. I couldn't help adding a second disc to collect some of it. If the law can't or won't do anything about it, then call in the folksingers!
What If the "Good Guys" Are the Ones Doing the Bad Things?
Heroes (Jill Sobule): It’s always hard to hear about the foibles and shortcomings of your heroes. I thought this humorous take on the whole “feet of clay” syndrome would be a good way to open the disc and offer a much lighter perspective than some of the cuts to follow.
Conservative Christian Right-Wing Republican Straight White American Males (Todd Snider): Again, another light-hearted song, but this one is a little more direct and contemporary. On the one hand, you can say Snider chose an easy target, but, on the other, he really lays bare the political polarization in America today.
Hey Kevin (Yer Girlfriend): Yer Girlfriend is a lesbian band from here in Louisville. Back in the day, Keith and I rarely missed one of their shows. They broke up several years ago, but re-group for special occasions. This song is based on a true story of a gay student who was kicked out of one of the seminaries here. It’s always touched me on a real personal level, because I was a student there too. So was Keith. It’s where we met. The last verse really resonates for me, all these years later.
Man of God (Eliza Gilkyson): This isn’t Gilkyson’s best bit of writing. It’s just a tad heavy-handed for my tastes. She done much better anti-war and anti-W songs, but I felt this one just fit here.
Mercy Now (Mary Gauthier): I couldn’t move away from the abuses on the contemporary American religious scene without including this song. Mary Gauthier cuts through to the part of me that still wants to believe, touching on many of the reasons why in the process. When this song was first released, my dad was in the hospital. Even now, listening to it realy gets me.
Shady Grove (Zoë Speaks): Kentucky folk duo recasts a well-known traditional song as an indictment of racism and racial injustice. This one gives me the chills every time I hear it.
Black Waters (Jennifer Rose): I really wanted to use Jean Richie’s version of this song, since she wrote it, but could not find it on iTunes. Jennifer Rose’s version comes the closest to matching Richie’s traditional mountain style of singing so I chose it. The many evils committed by big coal against the land and people of the Appalachians don’t get near the attention that they should. Personal note: Jennifer Rose and I went to the same college.
In the News (Kris Kristofferson): Nobody can sum up the crappy state we find ourselves in like Kris Kristofferson. It’s always fun to go to a Kristofferson concert and watch the folks who think the only songs he ever wrote or recorded were “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night” when he starts throwing out his more political material.
Can’t Make It Here (James McMurtry): I believe that we are reaping the bitter fruits of the Reagan revolution, and it’s not a pretty sight at all. The human cost is unbearably high. This song lays it all out better than any I’ve ever heard.
Some Humans Ain’t Human (John Prine): Only John Prine would think of comparing those responsible for our current national mess to “ice cubes with hair!”
Christmas in Washington (Steve Earle): It simply would not have been right to do this disc without a Steve Earle song!
Let it Ring (Amy Ray): As I started moving to the end of the disc, I felt like I had spent enough time laying out the evils of contemporary American society. I didn’t want stop at merely creating a musical downer. One of the beautiful things about “protest” music is that there are as many songs of hope as there are of indictment. I wanted to end with some calls for change and reminders not to give up hope.
This song comes from her solo album, Prom, which deals in large part with growing up queer in the south. It’s an incredible album, one of last year’s best, in fact. This is the final cut, and she manages to blast at those who use flag and faith as weapons to attack others and encourage those of us who oppose them at the same time.
The People’s Day (Otis Gibbs): This is the song that made me fall in love with Otis Gibbs. It sounds like something that would have been song at an IWW meeting in the 30’s! The inclusion of Harvey Milk on the list of the fallen heroes is a nice touch.
Peace Call (Eliza Gilkyson, Iris Dement, Mary Chapin Carpenter): This is a previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie song. I love the harmonies especially.
Imagine (Emmylou Harris): During the 2004 election cycle, she would do this song at her concerts. I was lucky enough to see it twice. Just her, a guitar, the words of one of rock’s greatest writers, and that amazing voice. I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s enough to inspire me to hold on to hope for the future. I hope she will record this in the future. In the meantime, this is an audio rip from a CMT live performance. Again, I probably should have edited the applause a bit.
Goodbye George! (Ann Reed): At this point in time, anti-W folk songs are a dime a dozen, and most of them, frankly, aren’t that good. Ann Reed knows how to do it right and manages to be political, clever, and entertaining. I had to close with this one, which is available for purchase from her web site, even though it meant following one live cut with another.
Quick Takes on Some of the Other Discs:
Lawbreakers (Lefty Brown): It’s a nice collection all together. Unlike a couple of other folks, I loved the Judas Priest opener. It’s a fun song and I thought the choice was tongue-in-cheek enough to be inspired. I didn’t care much for the next two cuts, so was a little worried for a moment. Franky, Fiona Apple bores me. The only other cut I really didn’t like was the Rod Stewart cover of "Street-Fightin’ Man," which just felt a little wrong somehow. But, the actual presence of the Rolling Stones made up for the bad Stones cover, and the presence of Steve Earle more than makes the disc a total winner. I’ve read some reviewers who think that "Condi Condi" is just a toss off bit of fluff for Earle, who usually has a lot more muscle to his music. Personally, I think it’s nice to see him bringing a bit of humor to his well-known politics.
The Steve Taylor song brought back good memories of my college days when I was into being in the Baptist Student Union and listening to contemporary Christian music. I had BSU friends who thought I was a bit of a heretic for liking Taylor, because he actually had some thought-provoking substance to his music, which was anathema to their version of Christianity. Of course, those same folks now think I’m a total hell-bound heathen because I’ve left the church, the faith, and (gasp!), I’ve been in love with another man for 15 years! Anyway, all told, I thought Lefty’s disc was another solid Lefty Brown collection. The man puts together good collections of music, folks.
Roger's Plethora of Contributions (Roger Green): I got his law and order discs in mail last week, along with a copy of his disc for Kelly’s Summer exchange (which I hadn’t received), and a very pleasant surprise disc. There’s no song list, just “Hello Eddie” written on the disc, so naturally I had to check it out first. In short, I’m enjoying the heck out of it. I’ve laughed. I’ve grooved. I’ve recognized some songs and a few artists, but there are quite a few who are new to me. I hope Roger will see this and spill the contents. Thanks for the lovely surprise, Roger. It's one of the best discs I've gotten this year!
He made two discs for the exchange, Enthroned in the Hearts of Kings (love the title!) and John, Bobby, and John. At his blog he says that he made Enthroned because he wasn't totally happy with JBJ after it was finished, which is odd to me, because I thought JBJ was the better of the two.
I thought the theme, fallen 60's icons (two Kennedys and a Beatle), gave the disc a really tight focus, but still allowed for a variety of contributions. I was especially surprised to hear Laura Cantrell on the disc. I thought it all hung together and flowed really well. The other disc is good and has a LOT of good songs on it, but it feels a little more disjointed to me.
Finally, Roger's summer exchange disc has been perfect listening for a couple of dreary October days!