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Various Artists - Rich Man’s War -  New Blues & Roots Songs of Peace And Protest

Ruf Records

On this album compilation producer Kenneth Bays has pulled together a collection of socially relevant songs written between 2004 and 2007. All the songs on this disk are well written and interesting, and there’s quite a bit of variety in the music. Bays found certain songs with different messages and managed to include many varying musical styles in the process.

The opening track, Bob Brozman’s swing blues, “Follow The Money” talks about money being the motivation for society’s ills. And while the lyrics never do pinpoint the exact problem or solution, the song still gets the point across with some great musical accompaniment. On the second track, Guitar Shorty weighs in with a swampy rock-blues number called, “We The People”, the most electric of all the songs on the album. The Texas blues showman has come a long way since appearing on The Gong Show way back when. On track three, Norman and Nancy Blake offer up a folk song about the “Neo-Coms in Washington” which echos the protest songs from the late 60’s. The song, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Neo-Coms”, opens with a cynical reference to the brothers Bush, Jeb and George, and continues to cut a swath through the entire administration.

On the next track, The Mathew Skoller Band delivers a passionate lament behind the soulful groove of “Handful Of People”, maybe my favorite song of the album. Dr. David Evans weighs in next with, “Bring The Boys Back Home”, an acoustic slide number that divulges his blues roots. Evans, a professor at University of Memphis, teaches a Ph. D. program in ethnomusicology and has an honest and straightforward style that takes the listener back in time.

Track six, “Mohammed and Jesus”, showcases the outstanding voice of diva Candye Kane, and gives a biblical perspective on war in this gospel-folk-blues song. Her voice is supported by some impressive acoustic guitar playing by none other than Bob Brozman!

Premier keyboardist Charlie Wood brings a mellow nightclub vibe to this record with “You Don’t Really Want To Know”, and the political lyrics fit nicely in this format. The dancing organ riffs add a bluesy flavor and Wood’s voice is clear and expressive as he tells his story.

On “Mr. Wesola’s Lucky Number Dream Book”, The Pat Boyack Band adds a ‘poetry-jazz’ feeling to this collection. In the song, all the evils of the world are listed in Mr. Wesola’s dream book and described with conviction by Boyack. The band is cooking throughout the whole song with a kind of Miles Davis/Bitches Brew feel, and I really dug the musicianship of this band.

The album’s C&W entry, “Chickenhawk” is the unmistakable work of comedian, activist & satirist Roy Zimmerman. Producer Bays inserts this little gem at just the right time, so we can have a little chuckle and at the same time marvel at Zimmerman’s amusing and poignant lyrics.

“Fear Itself” reminds me of Gil Scott-Heron, both lyrically and musically, so I’m assuming artist Michael Hill is a fan, like me. There’s a bit of an ‘island’ flavor to this song too, and with these political lyrics maybe Hill has evoked a little Marley from somewhere in his past.

Next, Chicago bluesman Eddy Clearwater brings a gospel blues, “A Time For Peace” from his Alligator album West Side Strut. Here Eddy shows us his sophisticated side in a beautiful song he wrote with Ronnie Baker Brooks. The gospel choir in the background is very impressive, and this production is top notch!

The last cut on the album is Doug MacLeod’s swinging blues, “Doug’s Talkin’ Politician Blues”. MacLeod’s semi-talking singing style here is reminiscent of Albert Collins in “Don’t Go Reaching Across My Plate” only brought with an older swing feel. The lyrics on this song make the listener think, and the music provides a catchy backdrop, especially the guitar playing.

This is an album all roots music lovers should have in their collection, especially those of us who are suspicious of big government. The album provides plenty of variety musically, so even if the lyrics aren’t critically important to you, the music stands out. In a way, this record is a historical commentary on the Bush administration, Big Brother and social injustice, and a forum for these great artists to express their views. Buy it!

Reviewer Bruce Williams is seasoned Blues musician (Junior Wells, Lefty Dizz and The Chicago Fire, Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins, Mark Hannon Blues Band). He  learned the blues from some of Chicago’s masters and has shared the stage with legends such as Willie Dixon, Jimmy Rogers, Sammy Lawhorn, Hound Dog Taylor and Jimmy Johnson. His band appears at clubs and festivals throughout the Midwest. He hosts a weekly radio program on WRLR FM Public Radio and produces music out of his home based Highland Lake Records

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