Sunday, September 20, 2009

Labor Songs for Today

“New Hard Times”
By Bill Collins and The Rabble Rousers


Labor music inevitably reflects broader social trends. The ongoing interplay with church hymns and military marching songs are clear. But labor’s musical traditions grow and change as they interact with other genres as well.

Bill Collins, a veteran rocker with international roots, demonstrates these shifts in “New Hard Times.” Bill turned to labor issues in 2005 and began recording this CD two years ago. (He acknowledges the influence of his union organizer wife!) As lead singer and guitarist for The Rabble Rousers, Collins rocks labor music into a whole new format.

The 17 tunes on the CD fall into two categories. Fourteen, mostly written by Bill and including two versions of “Dirty Tricks,” are new. They address contemporary issues and situations.

For example: The title song, along with “Card Count,” are literally from today’s headlines. “Too Poor to Retire” speaks to an eternal problem of low-income workers – in the first decade of a new century. And music such as “Union Town” and “Out on Strike” -- well, the words say it all.

The remaining three cuts are totally unique; they are classics updated with a rock beat. For example, in “Union Maid” the group goes back to the original 1940 Woody Guthrie wording – which identifies the American Legion as a threat to labor!

Finally, some of the new tunes represent updates of past issues. “God Told Me To” is Collins’ contemporary commentary on religious exploitation of the working class, first explored a century ago by Joe Hill in “Preacher and the Slave.”

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