Jud Caswell, while not on the surface a political activist, takes on this brave new world and the mess being made of it on the two standout tracks of Blackberry Time. Like a modern Phil Ochs tilting at windmills, he unleashes sly wit with For Sale, wherein he forsakes the fortune of materialism for the fortune of life on a much bigger and better scale. Indeed, he goes one step further by portraying materialism without the cloak given it by ten billion Scrooges (pre-Christmas Eve) who would have you believe that money is the be-all and end-all of the modern world. With voice just a bit south of James Taylor, he expresses disdain for "these out-of-staters who come to buy our neighborhood and then decide we're not their kind of neighbors." Beautifully done and with an intelligence beyond most of its message. He goes deeper with The Men Behind the Bushes, a penetrating song full of truth and double-entendre ("Bushes", get it?). Toss aside all of the columns and political arguments, Caswell has compacted the problems with the White House and its admirers into a mere four minutes and eighteen seconds. If there is an award for the year's most politically incise composition, this should be in the running.
Caswell teams up with Amy Speace on an excellent piece titled Peace and Quiet which compares political problems to those of personal relationship. Seemingly about the strife in Lebanon, it is brought home in the last verse where, while reading the newspaper at breakfast, allusion is made to the home.
The crooked borderlines and minefields
Throughout Blackberry Time, in fact, Caswell uses lyrics as weapons of mass intelligence, so to speak. He is a wordsmith, whether writing about the Bushes in the aforementioned The Men Behind the Bushes, the fruits of the season in Blackberry Time or attachment to a missed friend in What Ever Happened to Rob. And while the lyrics stand out, the music is there as well. Caswell is, indeed, the whole package.
If he ever wanted to become a modern day Phil Ochs, Caswell could do it. This country is crying out for another troubadour of import ready to break down the lies perpetrated by an administration neck deep in political intrigue—someone to make Bush and his cronies look like the buffoons they are without resorting to crudities. Of course, that would negate the importance of a ballad like Let It Go, a beautiful reminder that any one of us can be consumed by the negative and that letting go is sometimes the cure. Phil Ochs wrote songs like that too. Today, they are remembered only by historians and Ochs fanatics. Better that Jud Caswell stays just as he is. Gems like The Men Behind the Bushes will stand on their own without reams of such songs to support them. Without the emotionally insightful Let It Go's, though, the world would be diminished.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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