It was a good year for leftist politics, unless perhaps you subscribe to the notion that President-elect Obamas hewing to the center in his appointments represents a sell-out of progressive politics. I dont, and if one considers what weve contended with for the past eight years and the Republican McCain/Palin ticket, all of us on the left should be feeling blessed relief.
As for political music in 2008, well, there was much music was inspired by Barack Obamacheck out this YouTube list of more than 1,000: www.youtube.com/obamasongsbut what has yet to emerge, as I have decried for some time now, are enough substantial hits and notable songs of both artistry and appeal that address politics from a leftist perspective. Im of the mind that, as in the 1960s or late 1970s punk, there needs to be a substantial political movement and progressive political culture to foster and support such music. The election this year indicates that were getting there, and there are indications that the music might well follow. And the year did offer some find political music to back that contention.
Kudos go to conscious hip-hop star will.i.am whose songs in support of Obamathe star-studded Yes We Can and We Are The Ones before the election and Its a New Day in the aftermathare the years standout musical statements in support of the Democratic candidate and new president. A grateful nod must also go to Bruce Springsteen (who has a new album coming in early 2009) for his active support of Obama as well as the hip-hop/rap music community for coalescing behind the Democratic campaign with political activity and such songs as Nass Black President, Young Jezzys My President and Big Bois Somethings Gotta Give. Appreciation must also go to Heart (disclosure: for whom I do PR writing), Jackson Browne, Foo Fighters and John Mellencamp (whose 2008 Life, Death, Love and Freedom album was a fine politically-oriented CD) for objecting to the use of the songs at Republican campaign events.
I continue to believe that the best political song of recent years is James McMurtrys We Cant Make It Here, which he wrote and released prior to the 2004 election and became almost prescient with the recent financial downturn. To address 2008s election, McMurtry offered a live version as a free download from his record labels website.
Artistically notable albums with political content this last year include Rodney Crowells Sex & Gasoline, Todd Sniders wickedly cool Peace Queer, Billy Braggs Mr. Love & Justice, Michael Franti & Spearheads All Rebel Rockers, Chip Taylors New Sings of Freedom, Thievery Corporations Radio Retaliation and Susan Tedeschis Back To The River. Nigerian Afrobeat star Femi Kutis Day By Day and Puerto Rican duo Calle 13s Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo stood up well for the oppressed, and Crescent City native Dr. Johns City That Time Forgot reminded that New Orleans, the cradle of indigenous American music, is still neglected in the wake of Katrina. And Canadian songsmith Fred Eaglesmith (another PR writing client of mine) delivered a masterful disc of alternative gospel music exploring religiosity and the common man with Tinderbox.
Folk music has always been at the center of political and topical music. And veterans of that genre delivered some worthy albums this year such as Pete Seeger with At 89, Joan Baezs Steve Earle-produced set Day After Tomorrow and Richie Havens Nobody Left to Crown. Loudon Wainwright III revisits his older songs on the delightful Recovery, Neil Young at the dawn of his solo career can be heard on Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968, and though its not music, Janis Ians autobiography Societys Child is well worth a read for anyone who appreciates her music as well as her intelligence and honesty about who she is and the life she has led. Contemporary folk label Red House records issued a silver anniversary collection Red House 25 thats a fine introduction to their superb catalog, and the eighth volume of Bob Dylans Bootleg Series: Tell Tale SignsRare & Unreleased 1989-2006 reiterates the continuing vitality in recent years of the man who is not only the best political songwriter ever but the greatest songwriter of our age.
In closing, let me hip you to a few albums I enjoyed over the last year. Ive been in a British rock mood, and Paul Wellers 22 Dreams is a masterwork by the onetime leader of late-70s new wavers The Jam, and even if they arent the best albums by these bands, Dig Out Your Soul from Oasis and Beautiful Future got a lot of play in my home and car (and in the latter, I still am tuned in to Little Stevens Underground Garage on Sirius satellite radio. Some say that satellite radio is a failing medium, but I still recommend that its worth the small investment in a receiver and low monthly fee to find most anything you like in music). Im still wishing for a genuine soul music revival, and in the genre newcomer James Hunters The Hard Way and veterans Steve Cropper & Felix Cavalieres Nudge It Up A Notch are winners. Two discs that are at the very top of my years best are ones that (disclosure again) I wrote the PR bios for: Alejandro Escovedos Real Animal and Hal Ketchums Father Time (the best country album in ages). If youre into roots music, check out Olabelles mix of country, blues and gospel on Before This Time and noted jazz bassist Charlie Hadens return to his rural roots on Ramblin Boy, or discover some of my favorites in the Americana field (all also friends) with the compilations The Best Of The Hightone Years from both Dave Alvin and Buddy Miller and Veterans Day: The Tom Russell Anthology.
The struggle for a better nation and world and progressive political values enjoyed an encouraging year when it came to the ballot box this year, but the real victory is still to be won. And hopefully 2009 will continue this uptick in the amount and quality of political music to the benefit of our ears and souls.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, Jan. 1-15, 2009
Subscribe to The Progressive Populist