Julius Lester

Dressed Like Freedom

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Fourteen tracks from Julius Lester's two Vanguard albums, 1965's Julius Lester and 1967's Departures, were compiled onto this single-disc CD anthology. In fact, considering that it adds up to 71 minutes and that those two Vanguard LPs were the only albums he made, this is pretty much a summation of Lester's legacy as a recording artist. While the topical thrust of his acoustic guitar folk-blues is admirable, and an interesting reflection of the rising African-American consciousness of the era, musically it's a bit on the dry side. Even in 1965-1967, this folksy, storytelling style was a little dated, owing more to the likes of Josh White and, more distantly, the declarative style of Paul Robeson (listen to the vibrato on "Tryin' to Make It In" for a sample) than more modern troubadours or activists. The long (by 1967 standards) narratives of African-American identity and oppression, the nine-minute "Dressed Like Freedom," and twelve-minute "Long Hot Summer Days," might strike some listeners looking for an antecedent to Gil Scott-Heron and the Last Poets (two names brought up in the liner notes) as a little mild and polite in comparison. Lester did competently blend coffeehouse folk, spiritual overtones, and rural blues styles, and also ventured into dark (if lightly executed) comedy on "Cockroach Blues," "Landlord Blues," and "Mustache Blues." Tim Tooher's liner notes are excellent, incorporating a wealth of commentary from an interview conducted with Lester himself for this release.

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