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Joe Purdy Joe Purdy
Album: Who Will Be Next
Label: Bread And Butter
Tracks: 9

Hailing from Arkansas and currently based who knows where, Purdy's released 13 albums over the last 15 years, this being his fourteenth and had several of his songs featured on Grey's Anatomy. Here, working with British pedal steel maestro Chris Hillman and featuring violin for Dylan alumni Scarlet Rivera, he's recorded an album that, taking its cues from the protest songs of Seeger, Ochs, Guthrie and Dylan, looks contemporary America squarely in the eye.

The album opens at the turning of the year with "New Year's Eve", a reflection on what has gone before and hopes for what may come, expanding from the personal ("I hope I can be some use to this world and I won't be too prideful to try…and I hope I can find the courage to speak when there's something that needs being said") to wider political themes of refugees ("I hope that the families displaced by war find a country so brave and so bold to let down their guards and open their arms to the ones who have nowhere to go") as it builds to an organ-swirled climax.

The title track follows, Rivera underpinning a waltz that generally addresses the climate of fear in America is gripped but, more specifically, the continuing debate about the right to bear arms and the violence and tragedies it engenders. A particular stand out, the nasally-sung Dylanesque ballad "Children of Privilege" is a lead by example call for equality of respect and for those who have "never had to fight for your life or your family…never had to live on the streets all alone…never been harassed by the ones who should protect you ….never been mistreated for the color of your skin" to not "point your fingers and so freely judge all the ones who ain't as privileged as you."

Accompanied by pedal steel, "Kristine" rings the lyrical and musical changes, a talking country blues evocative of early Kristofferson and Prine about trying to make it as a travelling musician or, failing that, "maybe I'll just get stoned and call Kristine."

He returns to the theme of gun control and violence with "Cursin' Air", an achingly weary and resignedly sad strummed account that uses the image of a mass shooting ("is that a monster, is that a child is that a mad man") as a metaphor for a "rattled country with covered eyes, locked and loaded, shooting wild. America's troubled relationship with guns is also at the heart of another stand out track, "Cairo Walls". The title's a reference to the Illinois city sited at the meeting of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and hits lengthy history of racial conflict, and, referencing Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land", the song a call for change that, chiming with the Black Lives Matter movement, enumerates the deaths and violence to which not just Cairo, but Chicago, Ferguson and others like them across America have born witness in the struggle for civil rights and freedom.

Following the father to son bone-weary hopelessness of the refugees-themed 'War Dogs', the album closes with two songs very clearly written with the Presidential Election in mind. There's no doubt as to whom the "man who wants the White House for his personal TV show" and who's gonna build a wall big and tall and kick everybody out" is referencing on the call for mutual respect and understanding in the talking blues "Maybe We'll All Get Along Someday", a number which, maybe intentionally, calls to mind Kristofferson's 'Beat The Devil'. Finally, introduced with lonesome campfire harmonica, comes the waltzing heartfelt sung 'My Country', which sets the opening Guthrie-like vision of the beauty of America's landscape and nature against the subsequent latter day "With God On Our Side" that speaks of struggling migrant workers, home repossessions, the treatment of Native Americans, global warming and the lies and misinformation its people are fed, closing, like the Dylan song, on the vision of nuclear war and a plea to "stop fightin' your neighbors,, stop takin' up sides, learn to love one another before it's too late, start workin' together our country to save." On November 8, copies should be handed out at every polling station in America.

Mike Davies