Much of the protestation in modern music is accomplished via glancing blows and generalized references, too often a far cry from the old Seeger / Guthrie / Ochs days of pin-point precision. I distinctly recall when I heard Dion's Your Own Back Yard and was struck by its frankly confessional nature of bleak hope in personally catastrophic circumstances. It still sits upon my shoulders as an impressive song, almost unique, and now Danny O'Keefe is releasing a set of companion tracks just as singular and equally unhedging.
Father Bernie's Boys is a pensée upon the Roman Catholic Church and its multitudinous pederasty scandals, here focused on one boy run afoul of a priest whose sins are all too familiar. As an ex-altar boy, O'Keefe was incensed at the faith's real-time hideously uncaring attitudes upon increasing evidences, so he decided to address the subject. Myself having occupied the same position (ex-altar boy, ex-choir boy, ex-catechist baptized and confirmed in the church, now an atheist who abominates religion), I can relate all too clearly. So will you, regardless of faith or even lack of it. However, with his usual embracing eye, Danny includes bystanders and the society as culpable within themselves, as indeed he should. This factor is too easily scamped in our narcissistic society, and O'Keefe refuses to moo with the herd.
Pray for Me is an exercise of irony reflecting the lack of warmth and compassion in religion as against the Humanistically inclined tenets of pure spirituality. More effulgent than Father Bernie's Boys, replete with piano and lowing cello, it possesses a soft strength captivating mind and soul while reconciling the needs and fears of the human heart. Not that Boys is musically harsh, it isn't, but it's more folkily austere, just O'Keefe and a guitar fingerpicked in rondo patterns, chilled with the grim insertion of just rewards on the perpetrator ("Now we hear that Father Bernie is some felon's humble slave / Gettin' just as good as ever that he gave"). Pray for Me represents the change and accompanying alienation that beset all who evolve. Thus, two sides of the same coin are set spinning to reveal a dimension beyond heedless dogmas and a culture whose exaltations and contritions are too unsettlingly egotistical, much too excusatory of its cancers.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: along with Mickey Newbury, Bob Dylan (with whom he's co-written a song), and a small registry of others, Danny O'Keefe is one of the best musicians and writers this country has produced, but, through the too-often wanting graces of a musical fourth estate and its frequently feeble scribes, not to mention a public fetishizing superciliousness, he goes mostly unsung save for a "cult" of admirers who have treasured his work for almost 40 years. Like Nick Drake, O'Keefe will be lionized far more widely two decades from now, when the society has caught up to the subtleties, sonorities, and soul of a gentle transcendence it presently hasn't the wit to understand.
Both songs written by Danny O'Keefe.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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