various artists,
Spain in My Heart:
Songs of the Spanish Civil War

(Appleseed, 2003)

Born out of a desire to commemorate the sacrifices of those who fought and died in the Spanish Civil War, especially those of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Spain in My Heart: Songs of the Spanish Civil War is an opportunity for contemporary artists of conscience (and the ageless Pete Seeger) to share the musical side of those who struggled against Franco and his Nazi supporters. Though most of the lyrical content is in Spanish, there is in the music a passion that transcends language.

It seems both apt and inevitable that Seeger and Arlo Guthrie should open this disc, and so it is that they favor us with a rendition of "Jarama Valley," lyrics built onto the traditional melody of "Red River Valley" made so famous by Woody. This song is interspersed with Seeger's reminisces of living in that time and serving as a voice in the wilderness as the fascists came to power in the wake of the Great Depression, and is the perfect framing mechanism for the program which is to follow.

The biggest revelation to me with this album was a range of musicians whose work was previously unfamiliar to me. Michele Greene's strong vocals infused "En La Plaza de Mi Pueblo" with flamenco fore in the passionate style of folklorico, and her quiet reading of the lullaby "Tu Que Brillas" was strengthened by the counterpoint of a well-played harmonica. Katia and Salvador Cardenal, the twin voices of Guardabarranco, poured tender yearning into the ballad "Asturias" and lent quiet power to the lament of Garcia Lorca, "Noche Nochera," supported by powerful guitar figurings. Lila Downs' rendition of "El Quinto Regimiento" is in the sentimiento style.

Elsewhere, an exceptional reading of Christy Moore's the "Viva La Quinta Brigada" is offered by Aoife Clancy and Shay Black, whose bilingual version resonates with quiet, strong authority and contrasts with a different, more spirited version of the same sentiments and subject matter offered by the East L.A. ensemble Quetzal in the song "Viva La Quince Brigada." They also sing the sambaesque "Si Me Quieres Escribir." Clancy (known to many as from the ensemble Cherish the Ladies) also offers the "Bantry Girls' Lament," sung to remember the Irish lads who plunged into the fray, even though it had been a standard for over a century.

The masterful John McCutcheon is the perfect voice to fit to "The Abraham Lincoln Brigade" -- his lean and spare version strips the sacrifice to its essentials and stands as a stark and simple homage. Spain is ably represented by singer-songwriters Eliseo Perra and Uxia. Perra's "Luego Con Tres Heridas" features an exchange between guitars and Perra's own overdubbed strong baritone and tenor vocal lines. The result captures the heart of the original poem written by Miguel Hernandez before he died too young at 31 from tuberculosis contracted while a prisoner of Franco. Uxia offers "Garcia y Galan," the sad tale of the rebellion of 1930 in Jaca that ultimately led to the execution of both Garcia and Galan, among the first martyrs to the Republican cause. This Galician also sings the oft-heard "Los Marineros," a version in which the vocals trade off with accordion and flute.

Joel and Jamaica Raphael present an almost jaunty rendition of "Los Quatro Generales," telling the tale of the stuggles of the Republican partisans against Franco and his three supporting generals for the destiny of Madrid. This highlight of the disc contrasts sharptly in mood with the darker "Peat Bog Soldiers," offered by Laurie Lewis, who closes the album with the anthemic "Taste of Ashes." This latter tune is from the play Spain '36, crafted by Bruce Barthol and the San Francisco Mime Troupe on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War. The song itself features lyrics inspired by "La Pasionaria" by Dolores Ibarruri, a major voice of the original conflict.

In closing, there is music of exceptional power and grace in Spain in My Heart. It is engineered with great care, presented with both passion and compassion, and complemented by an insert that places the music firmly in its larger political context. In short, it is a disc well worth having for all who appreciate the politics of struggle against tyranny and the role that music plays in that struggle.

- Rambles
written by Gilbert Head
published 27 March 2004

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