Ethan Miller & Kate Boverman,
If All the Land Would Rise
(Riot Folk, 2005)

If you pine for the New Left politics of 1969 -- that is, the year New Left politics imploded -- you will want to add this album to your collection. The rest of you -- or maybe all of you; it's pretty hard to look back fondly to what passed for radical discourse in 1969 -- will shake your heads, I suspect, and you will turn to anybody within hearing distance (if anybody else is within hearing distance at that point) to remark that this is the sort of thing that gives protest songs a bad name.

I am not, never have been and never will be a member of the conservative party. I detested Bush's war even before he started it. I harbor no illusions about what international corporate capitalism has done to us non-rich and the world in which we all live, precariously. On the other hand, from my own late-1960s experience -- I was, for example, clubbed and tear-gassed, along with fellow anti-war protesters, on the notorious occasion of the 1968 Democratic Convention, at which it came to me that the radical left's cynical leadership and Mayor Daley's thuggish administration were, as pigs go, largely indistinguishable -- I have less than no time to indulge somebody's ultraleft bloviation.

At least, it is true, the extreme left has no power in this country, nor will it ever, but that makes it no less tiresome or narcissistic than its rigidly authoritarian equivalent on the far-right end of the spectrum. Hard-core ideologues begin by identifying real-life problems (on the left it's poverty, pollution, racism, sexism, homophobia, corruption, war, economic exploitation), then go on to fashion an alternative universe that only passingly resembles the messy, confusing universe resided in by all other humans, however decently intentioned.

The untold calumnies inflicted upon us by the present regime inWashington have had one small positive consequence: they have inspired a new body of protest anthems, pleasing as songs, persuasive as political statements because expressed in language the non-ideologue mope on the street understands and speaks in. On the other hand, Ethan Miller and Kate Boverman, who -- oddly -- live in Portland, Maine, and do at least some of their recording business (if they will pardon the phrase) in Portland, Oregon, are possessed of hearts so pure of ordinary human consideration that they refuse to copyright their songs, which are -- I am not fabricating for effect the words that follow -- "liberated from the enclosure of private property." Well, except for one (from the pen of Almanac Singer, Weaver and lifelong Stalinist Lee Hays), "Lonesome Traveler," which was "stolen from the commons" by its publisher, a fact "grudgingly" acknowledged by Miller and Boverman only to keep Folkways Music's lawyer at bay. Yikes, as the saying goes.

The liner notes are sadly predictably, more of the same, the songs still more so. After all the grinding slogans, chest-pounding, humor deprivation and aggrieved, self-righteous plaints have pummeled you into a stupefied state, you probably will fail to take note of the infrequent decent, rhetorically restrained composition and performance. Under the circumstances, however, that oversight is understandable. It is the sort of ordinary human failing with which Miller and Boverman, finer and truer than we (for particulars see "Declaration of War"), make clear they have no patience. In us more fallible human types, though, If All the Land Would Rise will cause to rise from the chest a huge sigh of relief as the brain entertains the thought that this is not the only available alternative to the crimes and idiocies of Bush's America. This is not, after all, 1969.

by Jerome Clark
20 May 2006