CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: SONGS FOR POLITICAL ACTION- FOLK MUSIC, TOPICAL SONGS AND THE AMERICAN LEFT

Long since out of reach for those that would most benefit from hearing it this 10 CD collection of near 300 rare political songs from between 1926-1953 is as perfect a package as could possibly be. Released on the German-based Bear Family label it features songs from folk singers Almanac Singers, Pete Seeger, The Weavers, Woody Guthrie and many others, and also bluesmen  like Josh White and Brownie McGhee.

This description from the Bear Family Records catalogue places the collection in a concise context:

“Maybe it didn’t bring about the social and economic equality that it strove for, but the American Left of the 1930’s and 1940’s did leave one lasting legacy: the urban folk song revival. The discs offer a comprehensive overview of this enduring music, from the labor choruses and New York’s socially conscious theatrical scene of the 1930’s, to the Almanac Singers postwar idealism of People’s Songs and ends with the disturbing anti-Communist hysteria of the McCarthy era.”

This set is incredible. As simple as that. A treasure trove that contains historical recordings that could otherwise have been lost to posterity. If anyone has ever said a truer thing than “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it” then I’d like to hear it! While the Left failed to achieve any real lasting change in the States the one place they did have significant presence was in music. A band like the Almanac Singers’ politically charged influence still resonates through today’s singer-songwriters. The idealism and hope on these recordings came to an abrupt end with the anti-Left McCarthy era that silenced many of these talented, dedicated performers. Containing Folk music, of course, but their are also cowboy songs, country songs, blues and country-blues and if nothing else they destroy the stereotype of the dry and humourless political song.

(to find the download click on the Disc number highlighted in RED)

Disc One: The Leftist Roots Of The Folk Revival

Primarily given over to the oldest union songs and farm-related protest songs. The sound quality on most of the material in this set is astonishingly good

DISC 1

Disc Two: Theatre And Cabaret Performers: 1936-1941

DISC 2

Disc Three: The Almanac Singers: March 1941 – July 1941

Disc Four: Fighting The Fascists: 1942-1944

Disc Three is given over to the Almanac Singers; this body of work was recorded when the official Communist Party line (to which they adhered) was non-aggression against Nazi Germany. The music on Disc Four was surprisingly complex, given the spartan conditions under which a lot of it was done.

DISC 3 AND 4

Disc Five: World War II And The Folk Revival

Disc Six: The People’s Songs Era: 1945-1949

Disc 5 features artists like Earl Robinson, Sir Lancelot, Vern Partlow, Tom Glazer and Woody Guthrie while Disc 6 is dedicated to artists like Josh White, Lee Hays, Lord Invader, Malivna Reynolds and others.

DISC 5 AND 6

Disc Seven: Pete Seeger: 1946-1948

Disc Eight: Charter Records: 1946-1949

Disc seven is mostly made up of Seeger’s masterpieces Roll The Union On and Songs For Political Action. This collection is made up of many things from the personal archives of Pete Seeger, old recordings and photos not found anywhere else. Eight compiles songs from the famed folk and blues record label Charter Records.

DISC 7 AND 8

Disc Nine: Campaign Songs: 1944-1949

Disc Ten: An Era Closes: 1949-1953

Disc nine represents the last significant cohesive body of topical political songs to come from the American left while by the time of disc ten the Left couldn’t do more than snipe at the reactionaries setting the agenda and the passive moderates who stood by.

DISC 9 AND 10

The full package is not just the ten CD’s it is accompanied by a 200-page + hardcover book featuring historical and musical essays, photographs, session information and lyrics – one of the finest documents of the relationship between music and politics of the period that has ever been published.

Listen to little known, or remembered, songs like ‘I’m Going To Organize, Baby Mine’, ‘Commonwealth Of Toil’, ‘Write Me Out My Union Card’, ‘Bad Housing Blues’, ‘Swingin’ On A Scab’, ‘Talking Un-American Blues’, ‘Unemployment Compensation Blues’ through to more famous songs like ‘Which Side Are You On?’ and ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and what you are actually listening to is pure unadulterated American history. These days when the American Left is obsessed with identity politics that divides people rather than bring them together and is separated from the wider working class its hard to imagine a time when working people fought and died for simple things like a living wage, voting rights, the right to organize, and the dignity of the average American. The modern Left’s hatred for all things American is a far cry from the patriotism and passion and love for America found on these discs. It is fitting that the last song on the collection is Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land’.  This passion for America, and a stubborn refusal to accept nothing less than America’s promise of a fundamental fairness, rests right on the surface of lyrics like:

“Was a high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing —
This land was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the Relief Office I saw my people —
As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me.”

For more like this…

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