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Given the state of the nation in 2021, it is no wonder that protest music has been springing up in all genres. This particular effort by vocalist Theo Bleckmann and the brass quartet the Westerlies mixes protest songs and hymns of the past with original compositions, to comment on various present-day problems.
Issues touched on in these songs include war, bigotry, gun violence and economic inequality. Bleckmann's voice rings out as a powerful beacon supported by intricate quartet arrangements which can either punch with blunt force or surround him with involved brass acrobatics. On Joni Mitchell's anti-war song, "The Fiddle and the Drum," acapella verses are met with bright, resonant fanfares. The old spiritual, "Wade In The Water" has Bleckmann's quiet singing cutting through a buzzing, ghostly murmur. Trombonist Andy Clausen's piece "Land" expresses feelings about forced displacement and emigration through the rolling movement and blue trumpet cries that surrounds the singer's voice. Bleckmann's own song, "Another Holiday," his response to the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, sets a quietly desolate vocal against a moving tapestry of echoing horns. On a more hopeful note there is "Look For The Union Label," a song from a pro-union television commercial of the past, where the horns ring out proudly behind Bleckmann's strong performance.
There is a dominant air of seriousness to this project but it also has a more sarcastic side. The Salvation Army hymn "In The Sweet By And By" gets merged with a parody version of the song written by legendary union organizer Joe Hill, "The Preacher and The Slave." Here the brass oompahs away in swaying over-the-top fashion as Bleckmann shouts the lyrics with a huckster's sneer in alternating baritone and tenor voices. Four songs by the greatest of all progressive folksingers Woody Guthrie show up but they are played by the Westerlies alone in prancing, up-tempo versions. Another noted artist, Bertolt Brecht, is represented in this set as well. His poem "Das Bitten der Kinder" is sung in German over a stately musical pulse arranged by Westerlies trumpeter Riley Mulherkar.
The Westerlies' brass arrangements convey a sense of dignity and calm throughout this set that enhances the nakedly honest singing of Theo Bleckmann. Together these artists create strong messages of compassion and solidarity through powerful and moving music.
The Fiddle and the Drum; Land; Two Good Men; Another Holiday; Tear the Fascists Down; Look for the Union Label; Wade in the Water; The Jolly Banker; Grandmar; In the Sweet By and By / The Preacher and the Slave; I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore; Das Bitten der Kinder (Recitation); Das Bitten der Kinder; Looking Out; Thoughts and Prayers