Ron Turner

Broadside Ballads, Vol. 7

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"All new songs, all new people," proclaims the booklet accompanying this seventh volume in Folkways Records' varied series of albums drawn from recordings associated with Broadside magazine, which is devoted to topical songwriting. Many people may associate Broadside with its support of singer/songwriters of the early '60s like Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, but the publication has gone right on with its mission of addressing issues of the day from a left-wing perspective. (An unsigned note in the booklet refers to the need for "a socialist revolution in the United States.") The all-new people singing the all-new songs are Larry Estridge, Gary Paris, Paul Kaplan, Danny & Judy Rose-Redwood, and Ron Turner, and the contemporary issues include the American Indian Movement's uprising at Wounded Knee, the ever-spreading scandals of the Nixon Administration, and the ongoing war in Vietnam. Estridge is allowed five of the LP's 11 tracks, and he proves a philosophical songwriter, leading off the disc with a statement of purpose in "Let It Roar Like a Flood." There and on the next song, "Spirits of the Revolution," Estridge speaks in general terms, but also in strong rhetoric, declaring that he will not compromise. Paris lightens the mood with his one song, "The Ballad of Mrs. Martha Mitchell," which recounts the loose-canon exploits of the wife of the former Attorney General. Another songwriter taking a humorous look at the overall subject known as Watergate is Ron Turner, whose "The Ballad of Frank Wills" tells the story of the security guard who caught the Watergate burglars. Turner is far more serious on "The Ballad of Frank Clearwater," which is the song about Wounded Knee. It might seem at this point that there is nothing new to be said about the Vietnam War, but Kaplan comes up with a different angle in "Vietnam," a song that, like Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" (published in the first issue of Broadside) asks a series of philosophical questions, but unlike the Dylan song, provides an answer with its final couplet. It's not clear that any of these songs will live much beyond the newspaper accounts of the stories they document, but they show that topical songwriting didn't stop ten years ago, by any means.