Review - "The revolution starts... now"
Having read very favourable reviews of Steve Earle's new album "The
Revolution Starts ... Now" in the Morning Star and Socialist Worker,
I must confess I am slightly ambivalent about it.
has always been a political artist. As he said himself in an interview
with the Chicago Sun-Times, "I
don't see much difference between the songs I write that people call
"political" and the other songs. I mean, "Copperhead Road" is pretty
f---ing political, but people don't think about it that way. But that
was my post-Vietnam song."
is of course the point - the strength of country music is that it
addresses the experience of working class life in America. This is the
case with mainstream country singers, such as Loretta Lynn, not only
with songs such as the moving "Coal
Miner's Daughter", but also
songs about the role of women, such as the self explanatory "Don't
come home a drinkin' (with lovin' on your mind)",
or "the Pill",
a deliberate working-class, feminist response to Tammy Winnette's "Stand
by you man".
Lorretta Lynn's humorous song "One
on the way"
brilliantly captures the degree which traditional feminist issues have
limited impact on women trapped in grinding poverty, while at the same
time celebrating the properties of resilience and self-reliance of
working class mothers.
Similarly, Johnny Cash had an extraordinary commitment to social
justice. His Christianity expressed a compassionate empathy with the
weak and lost. There has been no better artistic expression of how
working class people are drawn to the rewards and charisma of crime, for
example in his song "I
never picked cotton" on the 1996
His faith was not bible-belt self-righteousness, but a dream of justice
born in a stable and the secret scripture of the poor.
Because it has become associated with spangles and beads, the musical
conventions of country music can be a barrier to people unaccustomed to
it. That is the significance of artists like Steve Earle, or Dwight
Yokkum who have been open to rock influences, particularly the rock
ballad traditions of Bruce Springseeen, who has similar concerns
expressing day-to-day, blue-collar American life. Nevertheless, as with
any authentic musical tradition, country music can be transcended by the
genius of the artists. The revival of more traditional forms, such as
bluegrass, is interesting as a reaffirmation of Country as a folk music
Earle has been strongest where he gives poetic expression to the hopes,
dreams, frustrations and tedium of America's working poor. He is also a
fantastic writer of love songs, not "boy meets girl" clichés, but songs
about real love between adults, with themes of loss, divided loyalties,
pain and powerlessness. This is the territory where Johnny Cash also
Steve's new album "The
Revolution starts ... Now"
contains some fantastic songs. A great love duet with Emmylou Harris "Coming
Around", and his ballad "I
thought You Should Know" is a
very sophisticated mix of desire, repulsion and fear of rejection. The
rock based, "The Seeker"
deals well with the themes of aging and loss.
what is wrong with this album? Well, there is too much "politics" with a
capital P. In Steve's 2002 Album, "Jerusalem",
the political song, "John
was artistically successful because it subverted the Country convention
of a first-person ballad to express the genesis of the American Talliban.
Similarly, the title track about Palestine, worked as a first person
reaction to events.
political songs on the new album are generally weaker. Posturing and
sloganeering. The title track is particularly uninteresting and clichéd.
And the angry "F
the CC" is sub-punk foolishness,
with its chorus "Fuck the FBI,
Fuck the CIA". Only one of the
political songs "Rich Man's War"
is really good, and interestingly Steve has been including this song on
his recent BlueGrass tour around the Country Circuit, to very positive
are some very strong songs included here, and certainly this CD is worth
buying, But Steve needs to try a little less hard with the politics. His
left wing critique of American capitalism is best served when he
expresses in song the lives of its victims, not when he puts political
slogans to music.