There's always been eyeball-rolling when it comes to musicians getting political, so when one gathers a whole bunch of traditional such songs together, and adds to those some of his own pen, it is with tentative ears that the listening begins.
Luckily, such is the musicianship, rich, lyrical anger and honesty employed by Marc Ribot and his coterie on Songs of Resistance 1942-2018, that one is almost instantly rabble-roused and committed to the cause.
Guest vocalist Fay Victor delivers the call to arms on opener, We are Soldiers in the Army. Over a fear-inducing cacophony of free-jazz saxophone, Victor’s smooth gospel vocal announces “we’ve got to hold up the blood-stained banner … until we die”.
Ribot’s long-time mukka, Tom Waits takes over vocals on Italian partisans anthem Bella Ciao. Waits lamentably and softly pines over a solitary picked guitar, invoking the loss of freedoms, both then and now.
Srinivas is a Ribot original, roping in Steve Earle on vocals and made up of newspaper snippets recounting the senseless, hate-induced murder of two Indian men. This is Ribot’s first direct attack at the current US President “madman pulled the trigger / Donald Trump loaded the gun”. Earle’s delivery is smooth, and evokes everyman, reigning in the earnest pomposity such overtly political lyrics are often accused of. Slide guitars and brushed drums give way to a moving crescendo of twiddly-twiddly distorted guitars and the mantra: “My country / ‘tis of thee”.
On How to Walk in Freedom Sam Amidon and Victor issue pleas to past heroes of civil rights and social change “Come back Rosa Parks ... teach us how to walk in freedom”. There’s a breeziness to the flute, string and glockenspiel soundscape that has you sensing that such a change is doable.
The Mexican misogyny targeted on Rata de dos Patas is replaced with abuse hurled at Donald Trump, this time for his immigration policy. “Scum of life / deformed monstrosity” antagonises Ribot in a prelude to the sprightly Mexican folk tune, complete with mid-song rap by Ohene Cornelius, who brings in some contemporary urban imagery before the song finishes with sound bites of Trump, denigrating those the other side of the border.
The Italian resistance is the inspiration again for album highlight, The Militant Ecologist. Sorrowful, cinematic strings accompany Meshell Ndegeocello's mournfully soulful delivery of “somewhere above, the Earth’s green flag is flying / and if it’s not there’s nothing more to say”.
Ribot rails against Trump and climate change on The Big Fool “I could see your big wave approaching” he speak-sings. Despite all the signs of global warming the lyrics list, “ the big fool says ‘push on’”. The angst is increased musically here, invoking a thundering, unstoppable freight train, in a mess of feedback.
Steve Earle’s back on Ain’t gonna Let Them Turn Us Round. This is the second time Ribot’s covered this traditional gospel hymn. The first was with Ceramic Dog but this time, the music is more countrified, but the message no less concrete.
The ideas of past and present confederacy are attacked on John Brown and Knock That Statue Down, with Charlotteville far-right protests. “We’re sick and tired of white supremacy” sings Ribot, on this torch-of-a-different-kind song, in harmony with guest singer Syd Straw, over a folky, strummed banjo.
Closer, We’ll Never Turn Back meanders its way through cello-led picked acoustic guitars. And like a lot of this glorious album, it defiantly, calmly and hopefully proclaims that freedom is still possible.
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Released: 14 Sep 2018