Henry Barnes has strolled around another mysterious and wonderful bend on his shining path of inspiration. Whereas the folk experimentation of the 2001 Shrimper release Oak in the Ashes seemed unified by loopy spoken word, The People at Large (5 Rue Christine) is a protest album decoded from gaseous historical ether. The awkward "Bug" and "Tethered Ball" do retreat into that same basement poetry, and a few of the album's stylistic tangents are too opaque to engage listeners not on the Amps for Christ payroll. ("Use Use Use," for example, is a mess of distorted ranting and backwards noise.) Barnes is a scattershot genius, so bizarro burrs like these are to be expected. But The People at Large's main thrust uses to great effect the ghostly lilt of folk tradition to try reconnecting the shattered cultural and social bonds of a world in chaos. Tara Tikitavi takes lead vocal for a version of the Scottish traditional "Prince Charlie Stuart," while Barnes himself whispers his way along Ireland's "Morlough Shore." Meanwhile, a sitar tingles through "Tsaress," "Tarsit," and "Claremont Raga," threading the album with the sounds of a culture that's suffered from demonizing and callous ignorance. A plucked banjo leads Barnes through "AFC Tower Song"; over a bed of thick distortion, he reworks an old folk ballad to ruminate anew on 9/11, personal loss, and out of control American consumption. The album's clutch of tasteful instrumentals isn't as direct, but "Midianite Prelude," "Banjo Hymn," and even the two different interpretations of "Old Lang Syne" -- of all things -- successfully contribute their earthiness to the album's meditations on the dangerous state of humanity's unions. A bundle of both homemade and store-bought, acoustic and electric instruments tinkle throughout The People at Large; its liner notes contain calligraphic poetry dwelling detachedly on war, spirituality, and government. "The guy in the house is a bully," AFC writes at one point. "That guy in the house wants to hurt you." It's in this way that Barnes and his collaborators filter their protest and anger through the creativity that's always defined Amps for Christ. On The People at Large, the underpinnings of history and mystery bind the troubles of the present to a musical timeline of discontent and mourning.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus