Sue Jeffers, |
One Man's Ceiling Is
Just Another One's Door
(FBI Records, 1999)
Sue Jeffers is a folk musician firmly within the Arlo and Woody Guthrie tradition, combining political commentary with more personal insights in her music. Her political pieces are primarily concerned with environmental issues of different kinds, while the personal songs tend to the bittersweet aspects of relationships and their endings. Two of the songs combine these, weaving the political and personal together, and these songs are particularly strong and effective.
One Man's Ceiling... is almost entirely a solo endeavor, with Jeffers writing the songs and singing them, while also playing the guitar, tin whistle and tambourine (though mostly the guitar), with a little help from James Jeffers on midi and congas (and one subtle example of Bloater the Cat's background vocals on "Rivermud").
My favorite of the political songs is "The Mall Song," a sarcastic paean to development and longing for chain stores. Most politically inclined singer-songwriters these days don't write firmly tongue-in-cheek. I can understand why they may fear having a satire taken literally and used to advertise the very things they protest, but it's still nice to hear a song as resoundingly sarcastic as "The Mall Song." As someone who prefers wetlands to malls, I look forward to playing it for my aspiring mallrat daughter!
"Casmalia" discusses a situation similar to that in Patty Larkin's "Metal Drums," though less well-known (the Larkin song was about the situation in Woburn, MA made into the movie A Civil Action). In "Casmalia" a toxic dump is poisoning part of the town, while the rest cares only about the income it generates. I feel somewhat less sympathetic to the "Greenpeace Canvasser's Lament"; while I support many environmental causes, including Greenpeace sometimes, I loathe having my family or work time interrupted by canvassers, even for ones I support.
"Over Us" blends mourning the end of a love with mourning the state of the natural world at humanity's hands, with powerful effect as the facets reflect and reinforce each other. "T-time at Spam Sandwiches" uses the motto "Make love, not war" as a motif, combining it with somewhat surrealistic and evocative imagery to create a song encouraging both personal and political growth and action.
"Postcard to Encinitas" is one of the saddest and best songs, in which distance causes a breakup that neither person wants but both are unable to prevent. "Rivermud" is another standout, combining beautiful music and instrumental passages with dreamlike images. Many loves end with an agreement to be friends; "Around with Me" wonders whether this is possible or desirable, in the oblique and non-linear way we often think/feel about relationships. "White Bread and Tuna" contains a kaleidoscope of images and physical details of interactions in another evocative and regretful song.
Jeffers includes the complete lyrics to the songs, which is wonderfully helpful in following the imagery in several of them -- it's something I wish all singer-songwriters did.
I like One Man's Ceiling... quite a lot, and think fans of traditional politically aware folk who appreciate Seeger and the Guthries will be especially taken with Jeffers' style, skill and subject matter. I'm glad to have encountered her music, and look forward to hearing more from her in the future.
[ by Amanda Fisher ]