Bucky Halker, that Ph.D. of Populism, is back again with a follow-up to 2000's "Don't Want Your Millions." For the new album, Halker collected 14 labor protest songs from the 19th and 20th centuries, writing music for some of the lyrics and recording many of the songs for the first time. The majority of the songwriters hailed from Halker's home state of Illinois.
Halker's press boasts that the recordings surpass mere "campfire" arrangements and present the folk and blues numbers through a variety of musical styles. And the press doesn't lie. Halker "freshens" Woody Guthrie's "The Dying Miner," which chronicles the Centralia mining disaster, with contemporary instrumentation that will make the listener give the song the attention it deserves.
On "The Company Store" - a ballad akin to "Sixteen Tons," but 20 times bleaker - Halker sounds, not inappropriately, like another champion of the blue collar, Bruce Springsteen. He then takes lyrics about a 1937 massacre of striking workers and puts them to a country melody, complete with honky-tonk guitar licks, infusing the story of a tragic event with a healthy dose of rebellion.
His extensive liner notes reveal Halker's academic bent and do a good job of grounding the songs historically. Turn left off Mermaid Avenue and give this cd a listen. (P.O. Box 257608, Chicago, IL 60640, Bucky Halker)