Butch Hancock

War and Peace

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On his first new solo album in nine years, Butch Hancock, like several of his singer/songwriter peers, has decided that the time has come to take on President George W. Bush and his invasion and occupation of Iraq. Having kept tabs on history, Hancock has some choice words for the president's predecessors as well. For example, one verse of "Damage Done" goes, "Desert storms, call to arms, call it what you will/One nation out from under God with justice standin' still/Noriega, North, and Nixon now, like father and like son/One steps aside, one steps right in to carry on the damage done." And Hancock is specific in his criticisms. "When the good and the bad get ugly," he sings in a song of that title, "They do every dumb thing under the hot sun/There's ways to be real and there's ways you can heal/But the Patriot Act is not one." As far as he's concerned, the real reason for the war is not hard to discern. "The Devil in Us All" notes, "They never found a single weapon of mass destruction/But they all smell oil, got to get it in production." When he isn't reworking newspaper editorials into rhyming verse, Hancock relies on the Bible for his poetic imagery, viewing the situation in stark terms of good and evil. His observations are expressed musically in performances that inescapably evoke Bob Dylan and even Woody Guthrie. If it's nearly impossible to get through a notice about Hancock without mentioning Dylan, that's because Hancock's singing voice is so similar, not only in timbre but also in his phrasing, to Dylan's, to the extent that any average person, hearing only a sample of one of these tracks, would think it was Dylan. This is, in a sense, the kind of record one might expect if Dylan hadn't given up topical songwriting back in the '60s, or if he were suddenly to find inspiration in outrage at American foreign policy in the early 21st century. Hancock accentuates the similarity by setting his wordy, simply structured songs to folk and folk-rock arrangements that often recall mid-'60s Dylan when they don't hark all the way back to Guthrie. On an album first issued weeks before the 2006 Congressional midterm election (though not nationally released until afterward), he reserves his greatest hope for a ballot-box solution, concluding the disc with "That Great Election Day," although recent history also makes him wary here as well. "Don't let 'em count the votes with some man-made machine," he warns. "The only way to count 'em right is to count 'em all by hand." With that, he hopes, "a man or woman who has a plan for peace" will emerge the victor, perhaps looking ahead to 2008.

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