Until You Come Home: Songs for Veterans and Their Kin
George Mann, Julius Margolin and Friends
February 2010, www.untilyoucomehome.com
(Political Affairs) http://www.politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/9342/ — With “Until You Come Home,” singer-songwriter George Mann is able to offer up not only a strong musical statement on behalf of veterans of our recent wars but also one about his own fallen comrade, Julius Margolin. The oft-celebrated Margolin, Mann’s duet partner for several years, passed away some months ago at the age of 93 but not before helping to inspire this final product. Julie Margolin has been a beloved figure in the ranks of labor and throughout the Left in the New York City area for generations; his history ranged from working man to labor activist to union organizer and agitator to protest singer-and his absence has been sorely felt by those in the know.
The duet of George and Julius has been a conduit for outreach to other musicians and their recorded output has embraced a wide swath of topical song artists, making all the more effective their fight-back against the forces of reaction. No surprise that this latest release includes not only the leadership of Mann and the visceral presence of Margolin, but guest powerhouse performers Tom Paxton, Utah Phillips, Holly Near and John Gorka as well as strong voices for social change David Rovics, Magpie, Arlon Bennet, Jon Brooks & Rodney Brown, Walt Cronin, Laurie McAllister (of Red Molly) & Amy Speace, Emily Nyman and Eric Schwartz. While some of the tracks were recorded specific to this collection, ‘Until You Come Home’ also includes some pieces which were granted to Mann for use in this project. The presence of topical songs by noted performers like Paxton and Near gives us one more opportunity to hear these selections which had been released on earlier albums, and of course for the one piece included here by the late great Utah Phillips.
This disc was inspired by the book Voices of Vets and the work of Veterans for Peace and the Welcome Home Project. In describing the sense of mission about the creation of this compact disc collection, Mann stated, “There is a concerted effort underway to ease the transition back to post-service life for our veterans, in a way that recognizes that they have been affected, and wounded in various ways, by their service. It is up to the community to help in the process and this CD is our contribution to acknowledging the toll that these wars have taken on our service members and their families”. And this mission is evident throughout the selections herein. Mann’s own recordings open and close the disc; they speak in plain about the struggles of a returning vet, both laying out the format for what’s to come and offering an echo of the tracks between. His voice is sober, maybe sounding a bit more lonesome than usual, all the more important to the record’s concept. In contrast, Julius’ single selection on this disc, recorded before succumbing to the withering of illness, offers a view into the man’s vitality. His “Endless War” which had appeared on one of the pair’s earlier anti-Bush collections reminds us of which administration began this bloody trek, even if the current one keeps to the dreadful policy…all the more a clarification of the sense of eternal battle.
While this collection would never have reason to deny its strong and serious content, the selections are not downtrodden, blue in emotion. Gentle, ringing harmonies like those offered by Laurie McAllister and Amy Speace, dreamy melodies such as that which Emily Nyman imparts, clear and clean latter-day Country brought to us in the offerings of Arlon Bennet and Eric Schwartz, the integrity of the latter-day topical folk by Rodney Brown and David Rovics, the rough-hewn blues edge of Jon Brooks, the vexations of Walt Cronin and the tapestry of the lovely and forlorn by Magpie (on the 1921 ballad “Michael”) only serve to compliment and extend the work of the even more established artists they share sonic space with.
John Gorka’s brilliant story song “Writing in the Margins” dates from 2006 but it carries with it the urgency of many Vietnam-era anti-war pieces. Of course one hears this ironic generational blur even more apparently in the work of Holly Near, represented here by her gorgeous song “I Am Willing”, and Tom Paxton, one of the most beloved of the 1960s protest singers. Paxton’s reedy voice on his late ’80s piece “the Unknown” acts as a bridge from the time of the ’60s tumult through the repression of the Reagan years and into our more immediate struggles against the madness of war. Similarly, “Yellow Ribbon” by Utah Phillips. The fallen compadre of radical workers everywhere told a story like few others ever could or will and here in this song from 1991 we feel the intensity of the anti-war movement without ever missing the aspect of the veterans’ own viewpoint. Phillips, who served during the Korean conflict, knew of what he sang and he brings to us listening today a strong dose of reality; there ends up being no glory in bloodshed, little fanfare in the aftermath. But then, that’s the whole point of ‘Until You Come Home’: collectively its artists sing with the utmost respect for the “troops”, the favorite symbol of the purveyors of the war machine, while heartily reflecting the sentiment of today’s peace movement; this group of cultural workers cries for our nation to support the troops-by bringing them home NOW!