Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Gerry Spehar: “Anger Management” (2018) CD Review

Okay, some folks have suggested that I could use a little anger management myself these days. Just the other day I was kicked off of Twitter (again) for saying that I’d love to see Donald Trump buried up to his neck in dirt and for hundreds of fire ants to cover his hideous head. But hell, who wouldn’t want to see that? And fuck you, Twitter, for not having a sense of humor, and for letting Donald Trump say whatever he wants but for not letting us respond in kind. Anyway, while I think I will avoid actual anger management and therapy (at least for now), I believe I’m getting even better help from Gerry Spehar’s new album, Anger Management. There are some damned good songs on this disc. All of the tracks are originals, written or co-written by Gerry Spehar. The album is dedicated to Woody Guthrie, and this music works in the same vein that much of Guthrie’s music did (or, rather, does), addressing social and political troubles (and, boy, do we have a lot of those these days). Plus, Gerry Spehar has got some of my favorite people backing him on this album, including Paul Lacques and Paul Marshall of I See Hawks In L.A. In fact, Paul Lacques co-produced the album with Gerry Spehar. There are several other excellent musicians joining him on various tracks. I think this album is going to speak strongly to a lot of folks. It’s an album a lot of us need now.

Anger Management is an album that I love right from its very start, because it starts with a song against that delusional incestuous cretin Donald Trump, “Thank you Donald.” It doesn’t have an angry vibe, however; rather, it has a playful sound, with a nice rhythm and also a banjo, the sound of which almost always makes me happy (that’s John David on banjo). “Now, they tell me love trumps hate, and maybe that’s true at the Pearly Gate/But there ain’t much love down here, just a whole lotta hate and fear.” And it is a call to action, a call to vote. “Well, I ain’t gonna quit; I gotta vote a little bit.” And Brantley Kearns, another of my favorite musicians, plays fiddle on this track, so there’s that. That’s followed by “Son Of An Immigrant,” which has a more serious tone, and carries a reminder that we are all the descendants of immigrants (something that it seems a screwed up portion of the population is choosing to ignore). “I’m the son of an immigrant and he’s my brother/Why’s it so hard to love one another?

“Anger Management,” the album’s title track, had me from its first line, “Don’t tell me I’m angry, that makes me mad,” which had me laughing aloud (and this on a day when I was getting furious with the Trump regime again). My girlfriend and I were having a conversation, in which we were trying to figure out just what is the correct amount of anger to have these days. I mean, it seems ridiculous to not be angry. How can you not be angry when these bastards are trying to destroy not just the country, but the whole world? On the other hand, I don’t want my anger to get the best of me. I want to still be able to function. You know? There is a line, “My anger wants to pick a fight.” And that’s what worries me. Fortunately, I’ve never once run into anyone with a “Make America Great Again” cap. But if I did? I can’t swear that I would be able to walk away without, at the very least, ripping that hat off and tossing it into the street. It’s not a bad thing to be angry at fascists. Marc Doten and Joe Berardi of Double Naught Spy Car play on this track. It was written by Gerry Spehar, Stephanie Spehar and Christine Spehar.

“A Soldier’s Spiritual” is more in the folk realm, an effective and moving number. “I am a veteran, but I am not free/I’m still doing battle each night in my dreams.” You don’t have to be a veteran to be able to relate to this line: “I have no pension and I’m growing old.” “A Soldier’s Spiritual” was written by Gerry Spehar, Susan Spehar and Bobby Allison. “Carnival” has a very different sound and vibe, that of a demented, twisted carnival, earlier run by Lyndon Johnson and now by a mendacious bully. “We got ourselves a carnival, boys, and that man in the ring/Barking at the clowns is just our latest greatest king.” I absolutely love this song; it is playful and fun and has plenty to say. Marc Doten plays calliope on this track.

That’s followed by “Bitch Heaven,” which has a cool back porch folk sound and is a song about Fred Trump, Donald’s despicable father. The last line of Steve Poltz’s fantastic “Hey God, I’ll Trade You Donald Trump For Leonard Cohen” is “What do you say, God, Donald Trump for Woody Guthrie?” There was an actual connection between Woody Guthrie and Donald Trump’s father, as Guthrie had rented an apartment from the racist, and subsequently wrote a song about him, referring to Fred Trump as “Old Man Trump.” Gerry Spehar puts both Trump and Guthrie in this song, seeing how they fare in the afterlife. “Now, Old Man Trump had money and Woody had song/And which one do you think you get to take along.” This song makes reference to “This Land Is Your Land,” the song that I believe is actually our national anthem (or, at least, should be), ending with the line, “Yeah, this land was made for you and me, not old Trump.” Amen. “Bitch Heaven” was written by Gerry Spehar and Lindsey Smith. John David plays guitar on this track.

Perhaps the album’s most intriguing song is “Barrier Relief,” about a young immigrant making the dangerous crossing. The story is moving, of course, but it is also the song’s tone which is so effective, using certain instruments in an unusual way, particularly the horn and fiddle – Gabe Witcher plays fiddle on this track, and Erinn Bone is on horn. And it features some beautiful backing vocals by Christine Spehar and Gerry Spehar. That’s followed by a very short track that is not listed on the back of the CD, “Greed Prelude,” which leads directly into “Greed.” I dig the bass line to “Greed.” This one also features Erinn Bone on horn, as well as Tommy Jordan on horn.

“Freedom To Grab” makes a logical argument, referring to that recording of Donald Trump and Billy Bush, in which Donald Trump bragged about grabbing women by the pussy. I still, in my darkest moments, believe that any woman who voted for Donald Trump should have her pussy grabbed by strangers since by voting for him they were saying that behavior was okay. (Seriously, how did any women vote for this guy? I don’t get it.) In this song, however, it goes both ways. And why not? “See, I grab you and you grab me, and we’re both happy as we can be.” It’s delivered in a playful manner, which I appreciate. I also appreciate that the song has a nice dart aimed at Bill O’Reilly (“Don’t get uptight, it’s the Bill O’Reilly of Rights, baby”). And the backing vocalist at the end singing “It’s presidential” is hilarious. The album then concludes with “What Would Jesus Do,” a song about the Republicans’ version of Jesus. Another thing that I can’t wrap my head around is how hypocritical the so-called religious people in this country are these days, supporting Donald Trump, a man who has been married three times and has cheated on his wives, and is not the least bit spiritual. “Would Jesus vote for Trump?” Gerry asks in this song. Republicans would answer, “Yes.”

CD Track List
  1. Thank You Donald
  2. Son Of An Immigrant
  3. Anger Management
  4. A Soldier’s Spiritual
  5. Pearl Harbor
  6. Carnival
  7. Bitch Heaven
  8. Except For The Bomb
  9. Barrier Reef
  10. Greed Prelude
  11. Greed
  12. Freedom To Grab
  13. What Would Jesus Do? 
Anger Management was released digitally on February 19, 2018, and is scheduled to be released on CD on May 18, 2018.

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