Spook tells me that the first review he received on Whatcha Gonna Do?, the guy said it sucked. Hearing that, my gloves hit the ice (it's a hockey metaphor, nonsports fans) and I circled looking for someone to clock a good one. Only way I figure, the guy must have blown a circuit halfway through his ten millionth listen to Free Bird or Stairway To Heaven or maybe both played in tandem. The guy must be a flat out philistine. There is no way this album sucks.
Let me tell you how cool is the Spook. He hates war, and not just the war handed us by idiots who shall remain nameless, but all war. He has a conscience. He writes songs which are right to the point (and even better, covers songs of others which are right to the point), and most important, writes them with master hand. Now, I have to tell you, the comparisons to Phil Ochs threw me a little because there is nothing here I can compare to All the News That's Fit To Sing or Pleasures of the Harbor, but numerous listens now have me thinking the same way. He doesn't sound like Phil, I don't think, but he shares Phil's soul. I do believe that Phil might very well approve of Spook Handy.
For one thing, all three covers Spook includes are classic examples of poking fun at the obvious: Pete Seeger's Waist Deep In the Big Muddy (the consequences of following blindly); John Prine's Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore (the religious right is working hard to make this song timeless); and Holly Near's I Ain't Afraid (religion as hypocrisy). Each of these drive stakes through the heart of false reality and we all know where that comes from.
Handy's creations in an earlier time might well be classics themselves. Mom and Pop's Small Towne Corner Grocery Store points out loss of community on a seemingly small but actually grand scale; the blurred lines between public and private are microscoped in the tragic Mrs. Michael Browne; Death as a commonality in spite of man's supposed wishes to make it extinct is the subject of Death Came Anyway which Handy co-wrote with Flora Newberry; Whatcha Gonna Do? could be a calling out of those who speak out of both sides of the mouth but was written in fact for a British documentary titled The Doomsday Code (it supposedly parallels the Book of Revelations); and Heading For the Hague, written the day after the passing of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, shows how amazingly hypocritical we can be as a nation. Well, it amazes me, anyway.
Musically, Handy has a folk sensitivity but with big band and swing and jazz mixed in in varying degrees from track to track. A little thirties, forties and fifties take his songs beyond the standard is what I'm trying to say, and he does it well. Be forewarned, though. You cannot listen to these songs without litening to the lyrics. There isn't a three chord Louie Louie clone in the bunch. Nor are there clones of Free Bird or Stairway To Heaven. Thank God.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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