From Near's liner notes we learn that most of the songs included in this collection were written and recorded in the 1980's. Near says it best herself: "Reagan was president. Apartheid ruled in South Africa. The AIDS epidemic was cataclysmic. The U.S.-backed Contras rained havoc on the Nicaraguan revolution. The women's movement was reeling from the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment. Fear-based thinking and fundamentalism were on the rise. There were many early warnings...and the storms just kept on coming."
One of the remarkable things about Holly Near is not that she possesses one of the clearest, most expressive voices on the acoustic stage, but that she can marry that remarkable voice to a political message and then wrap it in a lovely melody that stays with you.
Don't Let the Singer Down, co-written with long-time collaborator Jeff Langley, is one such song. The lyrics present powerful images of eagles flying across the sun, rainbows spreading across a nighttime sky, and mountains tumbling down, all in an upbeat, almost theatrical melody. The message is a dream of a future without war - a frequent Near theme.
Holly Near collaborates with John McCutcheon on the anti-war anthem Watch Out! This song sends out an articulate warning on approaching war. Near's forceful vocals are powerfully backed by McCutcheon on hammered dulcimers.
Times may be tough, war may be on the horizon, but those whom you love will bring you through the day Near seems to say in a song about friendship called Couple of Friends. John McCutcheon on dulcimers and Darol Anger on cello lend real feeling to this lullabye of a song.
In one of the CD's best cuts, Sun Won't Stop, Near tells us that there is always hope in that "the sun won't stop rolling around in the sky." Accompanist John Buccino adds a touch of jazz on piano.
Sky Dances is simply one of the loveliest songs you'll ever hear. It is a Native American celebration of the natural world written by Jimmie Durhan and Roy Brown, but which Near has made her own. Her voice trails up and then down, meeting sky and earth, as it were. John Bucchino, Near's fine pianist, adds a light dusting of magic to the mix. It's simply beautiful.
Near closes with Pete Seeger's Quiet Early Morning, which appears on the Pete Seeger tribute recording, Where Have All The Flowers Gone. It's a call to keep on going even in our darkest hour - a sentiment Near espouses in all of her own songs.
Early Warnings captures Near at her political and vocal peak. For those looking for the quintessential Near, this is a must have recording. And for those new to her music, it is a great introduction. Let's thank Appleseed Recordings for bringing back and preserving some of the best music of one of this generation's best-loved and most respected social change artists.
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