Political Music Resonates

Let’s get political, okay? That’s why we’re all here. DVD: Joan Baez: How Sweet The Sound — And the most prominent voice in contemporary folk is indeed a sweet one. But as this recent PBS American Masters documentary, also out on DVD shows, Baez also has her sharp and militant sides, but in the best and most charming and persuasive ways. Few if any entertainment stars have walked it like they talked (and sang) it like Baez when it comes to her commitment to the best progressive and leftist causes. As she approaches the age of 70, Baez remains a vital artist and activist, and this no-holds-barred look at her life and music is as much a history of recent leftist and musical times as it is her admirable and fascinating life story. And then, of course, there’s her wonderful music, which this film is rich with, alongside interviews with Bob Dylan, David Crosby, her ex-husband David Harris, Steve Earle, Reverend Jesse Jackson and Roger McGuinn. I hesitate to invoke the oft-overused word “icon,” but Baez qualifies handily as a notable American whose life, political commitment, spirit and honesty are to be admired by anyone who loves great folk music and believes in positive change to a more humane and just world. The deluxe DVD/CD edition of this also includes several unreleased performances. This is an essential entertainment experience.

CD: Psalngs by John Lefebvre — This Canadian’s story is almost as compelling as the music on his 29-track debut album at age 57. He rose from a drug bust and jail time through various manual labor jobs to become a lawyer and then start singing his songs in coffeehouses and on the street at age 45. And then became an Internet entrepreneur with a secure online payment and money transfer service utilized by online gambling sites, eventually making millions of dollars but also being arrested and charged by the Department of Justice with criminal conspiracy, to which Lefebvre pled guilty and now awaits final disposition. At the same time he recorded his songs with an all-star crew of the finest and most notable Los Angeles studio veterans helmed by master producer Brian Ahern (who has worked with stars like Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash) and now offers it all for free download at his website (www.psalngs.com). It’s not even the biggest compliment to say that his music would be well worth paying for, as Lefebvre is a major new talent whose songs include some sharp and pointed political commentary that work as well as almost anything heard in recent years, maybe ever. I’m reminded at times of Warren Zevon in both his ability as a tough-minded yet witty observational songsmith as well as a writer who captures romanticism and humanity with a realist perspective. And given the lack of any price of admission, you can’t go wrong by helping yourself to his abundance of superb music. And I’m willing to bet you’ll be as duly impressed as I am.

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2009


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