Categories
Sound Salvation

2020 on Fire

2020 on Fire

I’ve been working on this playlist for several weeks, as the protests following the death of George Floyd have continued and the battle for social and racial justice rages on, as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to win more and more support, as more and more people have had enough of institutional racism.

Here, then, is something of a soundtrack for this modern age, made up of music old and new, all of which continues to fight the good fight.

“White People for Peace” — Against Me!

Against Me! has been a protest band from the very start, so what better place to start than this track from 2007’s landmark “New Wave” album, a protest song about singing protest songs? The title has never been more relevant, with the number of white people who’ve finally had enough of racism being a driving force as part of the current protest movement.

“Ghost Town” — The Specials

This song was written and released during a different series of riots — 1980 in the UK was rife — but it almost feels more timely now, with COVID-19 making all of our towns even more like ghost towns, and absolutely, “bands don’t play no more.”

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” — Gil Scott-Heron

The prescience of Gil Scott-Heron’s seminal song may seem somewhat questionable now. The revolution is being televised… and streamed. But the message is really that revolutions don’t happen from your sofa.

“What’s Going On” — Marvin Gaye

“This is America” — Childish Gambino

Did the current movement start here, with this utterly prescient song and video from Donald Glover? There’s an argument to be made that it did, with this song debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard chart and sweeping the Grammy Awards, it certainly did as much to sharpen focus and draw attention to what’s happening than virtually anything else in pop culture.

“Polaroid Baby” — Bratmobile

“Bang! Bang!” — Le Tigre

One of many songs of this list to reference previous police killings of unarmed black men, this song includes “newcaster” voiceovers directly discussing the killing of Amadou Diallo in New York City in 1999. The countdown to 41 reflects the number of shots fired at Diallo, 19 of which hit him.

“Make America Great Again” — Pussy Riot

Released two weeks before Donald Trump was elected president, this song envisioned what the world would be like under his rule. It’s sadly and eerily accurate.

“White Privilege II” — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Jamila Woods

Macklemore is never given enough credit for what he says. Listen closely to all 8:45 of this song, in which he analyzes his own privilege, the way other white people react to him and weighs all of that against his own desire for change. This is required listening.

“Hands Up” — Daye Jack feat. Killer Mike

“Fuck tha Police” — N.W.A.

“Fight the Power” — Public Enemy

“Sound of da Police” — KRS-One

Of course, this list would be incomplete without these three seminal hip-hop classics, but I wanted to take a moment to update on some things happening with these artists today.

N.W.A.’s Ice Cube — who has, of course, become a hugely successful actor, artist and entrepreneur — has been advocating for “A Contract with Black America,” a document that represents “a complete paradigm shift in how we run our institutions and operate our country,” which outlines ways to combat racism including education, legislation and police reform. Follow @icecube on Twitter to keep up with the developments.

Public Enemy, meanwhile, recorded an updated version of “Fight the Power” that kicked off the recent BET Awards, with new verses from Nas, Rapsody and Black Thought honoring recent victims George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Check it out at www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHQolYuO6Ew.

“Baltimore” — Prince

Sometimes it seems as though, much as there is a “Simpsons” reference to fit almost all occasions, that there is likewise a Prince song to pair with virtually any sentiment. Prince wrote this one in response to the 2015 death of Freddie Gray.

“(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” — Heaven 17

“Youth Against Fascism” — Sonic Youth

“American Idiot” — Green Day

As the current president edges the country closer to a fascist state than ever before, it’s noteworthy to consider that musicians have been predicting and agitating against this slide to the right for decades, from Heaven 17 at the dawn of the Reagan era and Sonic Youth at the tail end of the George H. W. Bush presidency to Green Day’s brilliant concept album taking on the George W. Bush administration.

“Clampdown” — The Clash

The only band I allowed two songs on this list, and honestly, I could have included a half-dozen others. Once known as “the only band that matters,” the Clash made a career of fighting for social justice in song. Dating to 1979’s seminal “London Calling” album — one of the very best albums ever made — this is yet another song that sounds eerily prescient today, so much so that Beto O’Rourke used it in his aborted presidential campaign.

“I Wanna Riot” — Rancid

“Don’t Pray on Me” — Bad Religion

“American Crisis” — Bob Mould

The newest song on this list, the great Bob Mould has been speaking out through music for decades, and he’s continuing in 2020. “I never thought I’d see this bullshit again/To come of age in the ’80s was bad enough/We were marginalized and demonized/I watched a lot of my generation die/Welcome back to American crisis,” he opens before continuing to rail against “evangelical ISIS” and “a fucked-up USA.” He’s tired, but unbowed.

“The Only Good Fascist is a Very Dead Fascist” — Propagandhi

“Nazi Punks Fuck Off” — Dead Kennedys

“If the Kids Are United” — Sham 69

An uplifting message? Yes, because overall, wheat’s being fought for is an uplifting goal, and it’s important that those who are doing the fighting remember to stand together as one and to never be divided.

“Know Your Rights” — The Clash

“All You Fascists” — Billy Bragg & Wilco

From the vaunted “Mermaid Avenue” sessions, this is a song that goes some distance to illustrating how far back these issues go. The song was recorded for 2000’s “Mermaid Avenue Vol. 2,” but the genesis of the project was a book of unused lyrics by the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie — writer of, among other things, “This Land is Your Land” — that were unearthed by his daughter and handed to British folk singer Billy Bragg, who brought the great American band Wilco in on the project. Guthrie wrote these lyrics in 1942, while the U.S. was fighting fascism in World War II.

“Riot Van” — Arctic Monkeys

“Freedom” — Beyonce feat. Kendrick Lamar

I wanted to end things on an uplifting vibe, and this gospel-tinged rave by Beyonce fits the bill. “I break chains all by myself/Won’t let my freedom rot in hell/Hey! I’ma keep running/’Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves,” she sings, and that’s a message we can all do with. Keep up the fight.

Categories
Music Reviews

John McCutcheon

John McCutcheon

To Everyone In All The World: A Celebration of Pete Seeger

Appleseed Productions

Listening to this tribute to Pete Seeger takes me way, way back. The very first record I played over and over was a collection of folk tunes from my parent’s collection. I have no idea who played on that record. The tunes were mainly traditional folk tunes about combing hair with a wagon wheel with a banjo on your knee. That record was the gateway drug for a five year old, Bob. I’m pretty sure there were some Pete Seeger songs on that disc. I know I destroyed the record because I didn’t’ t know how to treat a record. Sorry Mom and Dad.

The title track, “To Everyone in all the World” is a tune John McCutcheon also discovered as a kid. Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome” was John’s gateway to a lifelong passion for folk music of all sorts. McCutcheon does a great job curating a collection that reflects the wide ranging influence on popular music. “If I Had A Hammer” gets a bit of a Cajun kick from Michael Doucet and members of Beausoleil. Jon Carroll’s piano gives “Letter to Eve” a swingin’ jazz feel. Suzy Bogguss lends her voice to the sweet and sentimental “Sailing Down My Golden River”. “Living in the Country” is a pretty instrumental that let’s John loose on hammered dulcimer. The Byrds had a huge hit with their rendition of “Turn, Turn, Turn”. This is the safe side of Pete Seeger. The side of Pete Seeger your elementary school music teacher will share with you.

Pete Seeger was a rabble-rouser. “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” got Seeger kicked off the Smother’s Brother Comedy Hour in 1967. The network censors didn’t appreciate a song questioning the wisdom of military commanders. In the song, an arrogant captain orders his platoon into deeper and deeper water, ignoring the advice of his NCO’s. The platoon is only saved when the captain is drowns in the swollen river. In 1967, the song was a clear allegory for the Vietnam conflict. It applies just as well to Afghanistan now.

There are a couple tunes here that speak to the economic inequality that’s growing the 21st century, even though they were written to comment on the economic inequality of the early 20th century. “Mrs. Clara Sullivan’s Letter” is interesting in that the lyrics were adapted from a letter sent to the Labor News. Mrs. Sullivan wrote about how the coal companies exploited the miners.

Corey Harris brings a funky blues feel to “Talking Union”. The song was originally written as a rallying cry for organized labor. The line “if you wait for the boss to raise your pay, you’ll be waiting till judgment day” is really as relevant as it was then. The company town has been replaced by student loan and credit card debt, but the problem of not being able to get ahead is similar.

Thank you for the history and civics lesson. We’re stronger when we’re not divided.

www.folkmusic.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Everybody’s Talkin’

Everybody’s Talkin’

Everybody’s Talkin’: A Tribute to Fred Neil

Y&T

Fred Neil is not a household name, although everyone probably knows at least one of his songs. Neil was a Brill Building songwriter and an influential presence in the folk revival of the mid-1960’s. Between 1964 and 1967, Neil released three well-received album that garnered him a cult following. His song, “Everybody’s Talkin'” was a hit for Harry Nilsson when it was used as the theme for the movie Midnight Cowboy. The naturally reclusive Neil then retreated back to Florida where he devoted his energies to the Dolphin Project, an organization founded by Ric O’Barry (the Dolphin trainer from the TV show, Flipper), Steven Stills and Neil. Fred Neil continued to perform occasionally around Miami until his death in 2001 with most of those gigs being benefits for the Dolphin Project.

Fred Neil the musician is associated with the New York folk scene, but his heart was always in Florida. “Everybody’s Talkin'” speaks about going where “the weather suits my clothes.” “Bleecker and MacDougal” was the crossroads of the Greenwich Village folk scene, but Neil’s song by that name is all about longing to be back in Coconut Grove. It’s an obvious choice for the Miami based Y&T label to return some of that love with this tribute album.

Everybody’s Talkin’ is book-ended by versions of “The Dolphins”. Eric Anderson’s wistful version opens the set. It’s a reading of the tune that highlights the longing, searching and sadness in the lyric. The country blues rendition by Matthew Sabatella and Diane is still wistful and sad, but the vocal harmonies and instrumental flourishes give it a more hopeful vibe. It’s a subtle shift of emphasis that embodies the best of Neil’s songs. Of course, the centerpiece of the compilation has to be “Everybody’s Talkin'”. Keith Sykes give us a fine version. The sustained guitar lines quite literally underline the longings at the core of the song. Charlie Pickett’s take on “The Other Side of This Life” is the most energetic song on the disc. The Jefferson Airplane featured the song in their live sets, and Pickett channels that feeling with the late Johnny Salton contributing stinging lead guitar. Bobby Ingram’s rendition of “A Little Bit of Rain” has a timeless feel. The play between Bobby and Bryn’s voices makes me think of the classic country pairings like Tammy Wynette and George Jones.

While most of the songs on Everybody’s Talkin’ have that timeless quality, a few of the tunes are definitely artifacts of their time. “Dade County Jail” is an earnest issue song that is an echo of the earnest folk tunes sung by the Kingston Trio. “Handful of Gimme” also feels like a fly in amber. I guess it’s a fair representation of the man and his times, they just feel a little clunky in the flow of the album.

I’m glad that this compilation will bring attention to Fred Neil’s work. For the longest time, Neil’s records were hard to find and they were very late in getting the CD reissue. People who know of Fred, mostly know him from Nilsson or others doing his songs. So here we are introducing a new generation to Fred Neil by other folks doing his music. Fred would probably be fine with that. I know he’d be glad that proceeds from this tribute will benefit the Dolphin Project.

www.fredneil.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Sid Griffin

Sid Griffin

The Trick Is To Breathe

Prima

Sid Griffin was Americana before it was cool — in fact, he’s one of the pioneers who made it so. From the early ’80s with The Long Ryders and the ’90s with The Coal Porters, Griffin has championed roots music and helped create alt-country along the way. The Long Ryders mixed garage rock with county — check out their version of Mel Tillis’ “Sweet Mental Revenge” on their beloved Native Sons from 1984, and the Coal Porters combined the Byrds with bluegrass, adding fiddles and mandolin along the way. In addition to playing music Griffin is an accomplished author, penning tomes on Gram Parsons, bluegrass guitar, and Bob Dylan.

So what if he’s busy and didn’t put out a solo record in a decade? The Trick Is To Breathe has all the hallmarks of what makes Sid Griffin a legend: great songwriting, fabulous playing, and his evident love of language. “Ode to Bobbie Gentry” starts off the record, attempting to understand (in Gentry’s voice) what made the enigmatic singer just walk away from it all. He follows that up with an homage to Jimmie Rodgers on “Blue Yodel no. 12 & 35” which features the incredible Sierra Hull on mandolin backing up such lines as “The second that you notice as / I blossom like a lotus / While you whither like an I.O.U”… don’t think the Carter Brothers ever had lyrics like that.

He revisits his earlier tune “Everywhere” (famously done by Billy Bragg in the ’90s), as well as giving The Youngbloods hit “Get Together” an acoustic workout, which features Justin Moses on banjo. Produced by Thomm Jutz (who’s manned the boards for Nanci Griffith and Otis Gibbs among others), the record has a relaxed, easy going vibe to it, such as “Front Porch Fandango” or “We’ve Run Out Of Road”. Then you have “Punk Rock Club” which is a poem constructed from comments at a gig: “Why is the singer so dissatisfied?”…it’s a hoot. “Who’s Got A Broken Heart” is one of Griffin’s most sentient and emotive songs, just he, a guitar and Moses on fiddle that is made even more endearing by Griffin’s understated vocal.

The entire album has an alluring, magical mood to it, poignant at times, wryly humorous the next, ultimately unmistakably Sid Griffin. Don’t stay gone so long next time Sid!

Sid Griffin: www.sidgriffin.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

Last Shop Standing

Last Shop Standing

directed by Pip Piper

starring Richard Hawley, Johnny Marr, Paul Weller, Billy Bragg, Jo Good

Convex Entertainment / Proper Music Publishing / Blue Hippo Media

When asked if print would ever disappear, Will Eisner stated “No form of communication ever disappears, it just becomes more rarified.” That seems completely true for the pressed vinyl record. Introduced in 1948, it was the backbone of music until the CD displaced it in the 1980s. By 2000, it was nearly obsolete, but it’s had a resurgence. This loving documentary follows the path of the independent record stores in the UK, and how they influenced musician and fans. Paul Weller (The Jam) and Johnny Marr (The Smiths) and a half dozen more minor pop stars tell a common story — discovering odd corners of rock and roll in the funky shops full of dedicated fans and unique material. The record shops’ mantra is remarkably consistent: “We’re going to sell you something you had no idea you needed when you walked in.” It’s an addiction like no other.

The story arc is sad but familiar. Hundreds of shops filled the land in the 1970’s, each a small mecca for the music lover. Product came on vinyl, in large colorful cardboard sleeves, and when you were done with a record it slid back into a used market that encouraged shopping and experimenting. The rise of the compact disc had little effect at first, but soon the labels were tired of fiddling with these small shops, and they began mass marketing the top hits to the grocery chains. This gutted the small shops’ profit: the grocers saw CD’s as a loss leader, and sold them below the record shop’s cost to make their money back at the meat counter. A blood bath ensued, and shops by the hundreds closed both in the US and in the UK. But a resurgence in vinyl began about a decade ago, and nearly every CD or download I see offers a limited edition vinyl somewhere in the sales chain. My childhood has been saved!

The super-enthusiast in any topic can quickly turn into a bore, but that never happens here. Whatever style music you prefer, it’s somehow tied to the small shops that carry the odd, the unheard and the recycled. While this film is a must for the record collector, it’s worth a look if you have any interest in pop music or the culture you grew up with. These stores guided generations of musicians, and it’s good to see that some of them have found a new success, still doing what they do best — broadening your tastes without forcing anything down your throat. Music shops are like comic shops, only louder.

Last Shop Standing: lastshopstanding.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Brevard Busking Coalition

Brevard Busking Coalition

Shamen Noodles/Smell The Busk

busk (verb) Chiefly British. To entertain by dancing, singing, or reciting on the street or in a public place. Origin: 1850 – 55; “to make a living by entertaining.”

You’re forgiven if you have no idea of “busking.” As the definition says, it’s mainly a United Kingdom thing. Billy Bragg got his start “singing in the tubes” and scores of entertainers have struck up a song on the streets, put a tip jar out, and “sang for their supper.”

Don’t think any of them went at it like the Brevard Busking Coalition, however. These two live EPs are an exercise in audio anarchy. Between the six members they play over 30 instruments, and what a racket! Strains of Frank Zappa meet XTC, or perhaps the Holy Modal Rounders playing Tejano music, its all here. “God Didn’t Do It” gives a pointed rebuke to modern society, and “Spacebar” sounds like doo-wop on Mars performed by Primus. Or something. If you’re down Florida way and see a bunch of ne’er do wells playing in the streets, give a listen. You ain’t seen — or heard — anything like it. These EPs are available as free, Creative Commons-licensed downloads, check their website.

Brevard Busking Coalition: brevardbusking.org

Categories
Music Reviews

Frank Turner

Frank Turner

Poetry of the Dead

Epitaph

Frank Turner may just be one more hardcore kid who decided to soothe his vocal chords and pick up an acoustic guitar to bare his soul to the masses, but this dude was in a band that most folks have never heard of. Million Dead? Ring a bell? A little Googling reveals that they existed for about 5 years, way on the other side of the Atlantic (in the UK, that is). Unlike his acoustic punk cronies — Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music, Dustin Kensrue of Thrice, Jim Ward of Sparta to name but a few — Turner has the advantage of moderate anonymity. His Epitaph debut Poetry of the Dead is not without its flaws, but these slight slips are charming in their sincerity.

Switching between coffee shop crooning to tambourine-shakin’ blue collar rock, he keeps the mood lively and comes off like a cross between Flogging Molly, Billy Bragg, and Rise Against’s acoustic work. At the core of Turner’s poetry is a Celtic flavor that will satisfy the Guinness drinkers in the midst, and lyrics like Stand up, Sons of Liberty/ And fight for what you own/ Stand up, Sons of Liberty/ Fight Fight for your homes (from “Sons of Liberty”) are sure to inspire a shout-along or twenty in the bars across the land.

Frank Turner: www.frank-turner.com

Categories
Print Reviews

Kirsty MacColl: The One & Only

Kirsty MacColl: The One & Only

by Karen O’Brien

Andre Deutsch

Kirsty MacColl was and is one of my favorite singers. I was depressed and angered by her accidental death in 2000, and I won’t pretend to a lack of bias on the subject. Yet I feared a biography lacking in healthy skepticism by a plain over-awed fan. That’s not what MacColl would have wanted, I don’t think, and thank goodness it’s not the treatment she has received.

She was never much impressed by musical royalty, her own or anyone else’s. Collaborator Johnny Marr remembers her berating Keith Richards at a Rolling Stones session on which they both worked (and getting away with it). And surely anyone given to leading concert audiences in sing-a-longs of “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady” after an equipment breakdown should not be accused of taking themselves too seriously. How fortunate for us all, then, that Karen O’Brien has produced a volume clearly informed by the writers’ love of MacColl, but with an eye for the telling detail that keeps Kirsty’s humanity.

That humanity was the source of her greatest expression. Kirsty could have rightly considered she was part music royalty; she was the daughter of folk singer Ewan MacColl. But the usual generational difficulties, combined with a very specific sense of betrayal for her father’s actions towards her mother, created a distance between them both personally and musically. Billy Bragg, another songwriter with whom MacColl often worked, remembers her declaring “I fucking hate folk music!” Yet one of the quiet points this book makes is that some connections have deeper roots than we might think or even want. MacColl would write one of her most gently effective songs, “The Hardest Word,” with her brother, in tribute to their father. And her memorial bench in Soho Square is across the way from where Ewan once opened a club.

MacColl felt condescended to in the music business at times. Because of her lineage, and later her 1984 marriage to famous rock producer Steve Lillywhite (with whom she had two beloved children before separating ten years later), some were quick to put her successes down to nepotism. But she was, as she always wanted to be, her own woman. The soul revealed in her music found fans around the world that could not have cared less who her father or husband was.

Yet that revealed soul also contributed to a nearly crippling case of stage fright. It’s one thing to write a painfully autobiographical song about something deeply personal, and even to sing it in a studio in front of two or three trusted friends. It’s quite another to get onto a stage and sing it in front of strangers, no matter how much they Love your work. I consider myself lucky to have seen MacColl twice in concert and can’t say I was aware of this anxiety on her part. Knowing it now only makes me more impressed with the shows I saw.

Does this book have flaws? Sure it does, but I think they’re largely unavoidable.

After attending Kirsty MacColl’s memorial service, this book reports, her longtime friend — as a teenager, he’d tried to pick her up in a Dublin club — Bono said: “I couldn’t say I knew Kirsty until she was taken away and I met her family and friends, and then I really got a picture. I came away from that feeling like I had spent a lot of time with her, more time with her than I did, and I was really glad to be there.”

That is a near-perfect encapsulation of the experience of reading this book, which is why I nicked it. A book like this is always going to be a little bit like having someone keep coming in and telling you about this absolutely fabulous person in the next room. You even overhear her laughing and you never quite get to meet her.

But for fans of Kirsty, this book is going to be the next best thing.

Author’s Note: An appendix to this book contains heartfelt notes by Kirsty MacColl fans from around the world, including this writer. I am immensely proud to have been included, and to do my part in adding to her tribute.

Kirsty MacColl: www.kirstymaccoll.com

Categories
Music Reviews

The Proclaimers

The Proclaimers

Born Innocent

Persevere

The fifth album from The Proclaimers finds Scottish twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reid bringing their heavily accented exuberance and Everly-style harmonies to a collection of songs that are perhaps a bit more grown up than what we’ve come to expect.

For this one, the boys enlisted fellow Scot Edwyn Collins (Orange Juice) to produce, and tapped their touring band to back them up. That proves a sharp move on the opening title track with Stevie Christie’s electric piano leading the way. “Our best never beats our worst / It’s as funny as it’s perverse,” the brothers sing. “Should Have Been Loved” is terrifically catchy, if a bit repetitive. And then things get really interesting.

The Reids apply their usual peppy approach to “Blood On My Hands,” which seems inappropriate given the darker lyrics and disturbing imagery. They wrap that gleeful sound around dark sentiments in “Hate My Love” as well, which ultimately proves to be a silly but fun pop song. “You’re worse than drink / You’re worse than crack / For you they should bring hanging back / And I should be the one to string you up,” they sing. Yikes! They finally do go over the edge with the grating “Role Model,” as the brothers offer these lines: “She gives dying people hope, how does she cope? / She snorts a line of coke before an audience with the Pope.”

In addition to the original songs, there’s a terrific take on the old Vogues hit “Five O’Clock World” that makes it sound like the song was tailor made for them. You wonder why they never thought to cover it before.

The guys turn in a couple of nice ballads as well, with the soulful slow dance “Unguarded Moments” and the gentle “Redeemed.” A guy reads over old love letters on the charming “You Meant It Then.” And parents engage in a tug of war over a child on “He’s Just Like Me.” Finally, and most dramatically, they sing about accepting middle age gracefully on “No Doubt.” “There’s no doubt about it now / Youth has gone / It shines upon some other brow / Not this one.”

Perhaps The Proclaimers have lost some of the sense of giddy fun they brought to their big hit “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” but tackling mature themes may help the Reids transcend the perception of them as a novelty act.

The Proclaimers: http://www.proclaimers.co.uk/

Categories
Music Reviews

Ted Leo / Pharmacists

Ted Leo / Pharmacists

Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead

Lookout!

Ted Leo has long been one of indie rock’s “most likely to,” first with DC new wave punks Chisel, but lately as Ted Leo/Pharmacists. The Tyranny of Distance was one of 2001’s best-kept secrets in indie rock, causing enough of an industry stir to ensure overwhelming attention when Hearts of Oak followed in early 2003, another well-received artistic success.

Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead is a 9-track mini-album, and a way to please his most impatient fans until the next “real” album’s out. It’s an unpretentious collection of already available material (the title track), a re-recorded song (“The High Party”), some new and stripped-down solo songs (“The Sword in the Stone,” “Bleeding Powers” and “Loyal to My Sorrowful Country”) and a few cover versions effectively mapping out his musical heritage (The Posies’ “Dirty Old Town,” The Jam’s “Ghosts” and, a tad surprisingly, Split Enz’s “Six Months in a Leaky Boat”).

Ted Leo’s frantic delivery and expressive playing is very much in place, but this release relies more heavily on his lyrics than his musical performance. Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead stresses his politically-aware qualities, portraying him as an American counterpart to UK’s Billy Bragg. It’s certainly not a far-fetched comparison, as Ted Leo conjures up images not only of Bragg, but also of Paul Westerberg, a young Paul Weller and even his folkie hero Woody Guthrie.

As an EP to fill the days until his next full-length, this is a fine enough release. The casual nature of the disc doesn’t hold a candle to his last two albums, but even when he’s just messing about, Ted Leo is far more interesting than most current indie rockers. Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead is mainly of interest to those familiar with his former work; everyone else should start by checking out The Tyranny of Distance and Hearts of Oak, both of which demonstrate his true capacities as songwriter and performer.

Lookout! Records: http://www.lookoutrecords.com/