James Gordon,
Coyote Calling
(Borealis, 2013)

In the 1960s, James Gordon would have been billed a protest singer. Today, he's a socially concerned singer-songwriter who writes about social justice, environmental issues and other things touching on the human condition. Therein lies the problem. As Tom Paxton, who should know, has said, there's nothing as dated as yesterday's protest song.

If you're singing these songs live, trying to stir up a like-minded audience -- well, that's one thing. If live performance in order to influence a crowd is the goal, then maybe direct, simplistic and literal lyrics are all right. When these same songs are recorded, sent out to people in many situations, places and listening conditions, then maybe some artistry is in order. Some metaphor, a little symbolism, maybe -- a touch of indirect language. In other words, something to lift the material into the realm of art, rather than propaganda.

Here are some lyrics from "We're the Ninety-Nine" --

This country is rich, we know this to be true
But that wealth's in the hands of the fortunate few
so there's a new conversation, in the global cafe
Let's all sit down together ands find a better way.

The statements are true, of course, but stated this bluntly, they are also trite, simply a repeat of the conventional wisdom. And this represents the level of writing on the album. Here's a few lines from "Jack's Dream" --

Our system excludes many from our collective wealth
too many homeless, too many in poor health.


With our commitment we can shift society
We can face climate change and poverty
We will succeed together if we try.

I am aware that listeners more attuned to messages than music might find all of these lyrics wonderful and might love this album. Those of us who want art with our messages are not going to find our needs satisfied in Coyote Calling.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

23 March 2013

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new