Like many other Americans, guitarist Marc Ribot had a visceral reaction the night Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Almost immediately he began studying history's political songs to interact with the present, selecting what he thought would work right now. The result of that sojourn of study, writing, arranging, and recording is Songs of Resistance 1942-2018. He reworked classic songs and wrote new ones. He enlisted a stellar cast of collaborators including Fay Victor, Justin Vivian Bond, Meshell Ndegeocello, Sam Amidon, Steve Earle, Tift Merritt, Tom Waits, Syd Straw, and Ohene Cornelius. Profits from the recording will be donated to the Indivisible Project.
The union of jazz saxophones and anthemic rock on the traditional "We Are Soldiers in the Army" is a rousing entry point with Victor's voice taming the squall and improv intensity, holding the melody amid the sonic maelstrom. Waits sings the Italian song "Bella Ciao," a short, sad, Italian Partisan song from WWII realized sorrowfully. Earle and Merritt deliver Ribot's "Srinivas," about Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a young Sikh senselessly shot by men who thought he was a Muslim. A country rock tune with roiling fiddles, mandolins, and guitars is shot through with "My Country 'Tis of Thee," as chants honor the names of American martyrs, from Myra Thompson and Eric Garner to Michael Brown and Heather Heier. "Rata de Dos Patas," made immortal by Mexico's Paquita la del Barrio, is a bilingual mariachi crossed with psych, featuring a rap by Cornelius and sung anonymously by an immigrant woman who declined identification for fear of retaliation from Trump's radicalized ICE. Its lyrics are the definition of brutal. Ribot adapted the Italian anti-fascist song "Fischia Il Vento" for Ndegeocello, who delivers its beautiful, sad lyric above his guitar, winds, and strings. Ribot sings his own "The Big Fool," a chugging, apocalyptic blues jam that directly references some of Trump's outrages via lyric sources from W.B. Yeats, Pete Seeger, Allen Ginsberg, and a British economist. Earle and Straw sing "Tear That Statue Down," an original anchored in the Civil Rights era. Ribot's "John Brown" is soulful funk delivered by Victor and backed by a band that recalls the musical versatility of Mandrill. The closer is Bertha Gober's "We'll Never Turn Back" sung by Bond, a gentle, acoustic folk song about common Civil Rights that references gay activist Marsha P. No matter how many musical forms Ribot uses on Songs of Resistance 1942-2018, this is a proper "folk" album. It extends the topical tradition from the annals of social and political history in older songs that have been altered for generations to suit a cause or purpose, and originals that were deeply influenced by them as well as the times we live in. This is rightly called an "anti-Trump album." That said, as a work, this set is transcendent: By juxtaposing modern songs about resistance to injustice and tyranny, with those updated historic ones that inspired earlier movements, it presents struggle in the larger context of community, while exhorting listeners to actively participate in the political process.