Monday, October 10, 2011

Album Review: The Big Red Sessions and Ten New Songs (2011)

Title:  The Big Red Sessions (Official) and Ten New Songs [2011] (Official)

David Rovics is a political activist / singer-songwriter, his two latest albums, The Big Red Sessions and Ten New Songs (2011), were released this year on Liberation Records.  Both records are politically driven with songs that deal with current events (especially Ten New Songs which was written during the spring of 2011). 

Even though both records were recorded and released in 2011, they are sonically different.  Ten New Songs (2011) is a simple folk record with Rovics playing an acoustic guitar while The Big Red Sessions was recorded with a full band.  Between the two, I think that Ten New Songs works the best.  This type of music is best when kept simple and while there are some very good songs on The Big Red Sessions (I’m especially fond of “I’m a Better Anarchist than You” and “Burn It Down”), the execution on Ten New Songs just works better.  In a lot of ways, Rovics reminds me a lot of Ryan Harvey, especially on Ten New Songs.  I’m not sure that Rovics would fall into the folk punk sub-genre but I can certainly see him playing alongside the likes of Harvey and the Andrew Jackson Jihad (both of which play very simple music).  The songs on The Big Red Sessions would have benefited from the more stripped down and simplistic treatment. 

Rovics is obviously a very passionate and committed activist but that doesn’t always translate into great music.  Rovics is a very capable songwriter but I get the sense that the music is simply an outlet for his politics.  This isn’t a bad thing mind you, but after a while it gets tiresome.  Case in point—the Dead Kennedys.  Throughout their career Jello Biafra and company wrote songs specifically dealing with the politics of the time (i.e the 1980s).  Some of that material was brilliant (“Where Do You Draw the Line?” and the entire Fresh Fruit… record) but a lot of it got old after a while and almost more importantly it made their material incredibly dated.  The best political songs make general statements that sing to our spirits and not attack specific issues (see Midnight Oil, U2, and Dropkick Murphys).  These two records are my first exposure to Rovics’ music so I am in no way an expert on his catalog or past output. 

On a local note, Rovices will be playing Studio 360 in Norman on Wednesday October 18th and LunaBread in Tulsa on Thursday October 20th.  I’ve included the poster for the Tulsa show because I was unable to find any cover artwork for either record. 

If you are a fan of politically driven folk music or are a fan of the work of Ryan Harvey, Woody Guthrie, and Billy Bragg, then I highly suggest you check out David Rovics.  Even if you are not a fan of his politics, you have to applaud and admire this man’s DIY attitude and work ethic.  

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