While the legacy of John Brown has been a controversial one, he has long been a hero in more liberal circles. Northern abolitionists martyred Brown when he was hung for his attack on Harper's Ferry and "John Brown's Body" became a cry of freedom for Northern troops during the Civil War. The political folk group Magpie's song cycle -- John Brown: Sword of the Spirit -- shows that the symbolic power of Brown has lost none of its significance. Vocalist/guitarist Greg Artzner and vocals/multiple instrumentalist Terry Leonino have created a lively set of songs that celebrate his legacy, filled with energetic harmony and bright acoustic music. They begin with an overview, singing Si Kahn's ballad, "Old John Brown" that starts with the haunting line, "October sixteenth, 1859/Peace is hangin' by a small, thin line." "John Brown Abolitionist" is a honest-to-god tear jerker, a letter from Brown's wife, Mary, after she has learned of his capture and forthcoming execution. She, like him, believes ardently in the abolitionist cause; she passionately supports her husband, despite the enormity of their personal sacrifice. Other songs cover events surrounding his story, like Woody Guthrie's "The Ballad of Harriet Tubman," and Reggie and Kim Harris's "Heaven Is Less Than Fair," a song about code words used for the Underground Railroad. All of these songs offer inspiration while serving as powerful reminders of important events in American History. Magpie has created a satisfying album of political folk, complete with memorable songs and a powerful presentation.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.