Music review: Musicians respond to Sept. 11

Steve Earle’s new album, Jerusalem, will be released on Sept. 24. He returns to his typically sharp and insightful political response to the world as he sees it. Earle said, in a recent interview, that President Bush’s USA Patriot Act is “an incredibly dangerous piece of legislation. Freedoms, American freedoms, things voted into law as American Freedoms, everything that came out of the 1960s are disappearing, and any patriot can see that has to be opposed.”

So, on his new album he has a song calling for popular opposition to this undemocratic direction. Earle also shows his guts and creative ability to get into the minds of often-troubled people.

Earle writes and sings about John Walker in the song “John Walker Blues.” On this cut, Earle tries to get into the mind of a troubled 20-year-old who would embrace the Taliban. While Earle certainly opposes the Taliban, saying, “fundamentalism, as practiced by the Taliban, is the enemy of real thought and religion,” he explores why Walker moved in that direction.

Like Earle’s Jerusalem, Natalie Merchant’s album, Motherland, released just before Sept. 11, 2001, gives her views of the Bush administration. In fact, her words were so strong that the liner notes make careful note that Merchant’s comments in no way take away from the horrors of Sept. 11.

Songs such as “This House on Fire” show that Merchant is very worried about the state of our country. The rest of the album is also excellent in pointing to ongoing racism and anti-democratic forces in our country. This album is a must.

Another must is Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising, his first studio album with the E Street Band since Born in the USA, which was released almost 20 years ago.

The driving musical force of the band collectively, and Bruce’s own style, makes the album a must buy. Bruce’s emotions on this album are caught up on his personal reaction to current events, especially Sept. 11.

The fifteen songs are about loss and dreaming about a better life. He clearly has not intended this album to be his reaction to the economic crisis of the current period. But, like Steve Earle, he doesn’t have to make every album a political treatise to defend his devotion to economic, social and racial justice.

– Eric Green The author can be reached at pww@pww.org