This album is called 50 in celebration of the fifty years that have passed since “Country” Joe McDonald put out his first recording in 1965. Since you may have noticed that it’s now 2017, you will not be surprised that there’s a story here.
Though his music comes from many places, Joe came out of a folk scene that generally recorded live – and pretty quickly. So he was shooting for a 2015 release when he went into the studio with the legendary Tubes drummer Prairie Prince and his band (James DePrato, guitar and stringed instruments; Diana Mangano, vocals; Blair Hardman, bass). Then the music took hold, and he began to see multiple new possibilities. He returned to the studio. About 27 times, actually.
Here we have a veteran (in both senses) musician taking stock of himself with a long career behind him – and taking a major new approach to his art. The lyrics remain plain and direct, meditations on aging and loss, especially lost love, and the meaning of important things. But they often come in surprisingly lush and lovely musical beds. It adds up to a powerful package. In a time in which communication is buried under surreal political distortions and a cyberworld that buries us in information that ultimately tells us little of value, here is sharp, considered wisdom.
“Round and Round” –- rather dark lyrics – “People come and people go we’re born and then we die” – set to an elegant, beautiful tune.
“I Don’t Think So” – Borderline bitter end-of-love song that’s downright energetic and danceable.
“Poppa and Momma” – combines a ripping guitar lead and a rolling rhythm with Joe’s commitment to what’s important – “Serving and working and using my mind.”
“Sadness and Pain” – opens sounding like a Pink Floyd mini-symphony before going on to talk about “walking out the door.”
“Black Fish” – a folk song commentary on Orcas – with beautiful almost-flamenco style guitar picking.
“Silent Rage” – snarling rock song that’s as punk-angry as the Sex Pistols ever were.
“Daughter of England” – classic McDonald political fury, wrapped in a big envelope of soaring voices and guitars…she’s “sitting on a weapon of war.”
“Compared to Florence” – the pain of inferiority…made even sharper by country steel guitar licks.
“Era of Guns” – a McDonald folk song movie of contemporary American life…in the era of guns.
“I’m Free” – a folk-rock declaration of autonomy.
“Where Did the Time Go” – a waltz looking back on a long life where once we were all young stars, with good advice: “cherish today, it’s all that we know.”
“Seashore Symphony #2” – the joker in the deck, a collaboration with Bernie Krause. An instrumental collage of natural seashore sounds with ethereal voices and guitars.
“Roseeann” – an a-capella lullabye and farewell.