My grandparents lost brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles in the Holocaust, and I’ve toured and have friends in Russia and Turkey; we recognise Trump, and it’s no mystery where we will wind up if we don’t push back.
Those are the words used by the guitarist Marc Ribot to introduce his new album, which seems to me to be one of the year’s most important releases. A series of protest songs aimed at our current discontents, Songs of Resistance is in the spirit of Charlie Haden’s first Liberation Music Orchestra album, back in 1968, in that it fuses music of the past with that of the present, adding historical perspective to the various struggles it depicts.
The difference is that Ribot varies the musical approach from track to track, using guest singers and different instrumental groupings. So Tom Waits — with whom he has collaborated more more than 30 years — delivers a ballad called “Bella Ciao”, sung by the Italian partisans of the Second World War. Fay Victor fronts a irresistible funked-up “John Brown”, one of several tracks alluding to the civil rights movement. Steve Earle takes his turn on a Ribot tune about a Sikh immigrant murdered in Texas by a racist who mistook him for a Muslim (“A madman pulled the trigger / Donald Trump loaded the gun”), containing fragments of “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” and “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee”. Meshell Ndegeocello sings Ribot’s elegant “The Militant Ecologist”, based on another Italian song. The homespun “Knock That Statue Down”, attacking the resistance to the removal of memorials to the Confederacy, is delivered by Ribot himself. The last of the 11 tracks features Justin Vivian Bond singing “We’re Never Turning Back”, Ribot’s comment on gender politics.
Throughout his long career, the guitarist has been noted for the inclusiveness of his approach. Although the settings here reflect his diversity of musical interests, veering from folk songs and country music through go-go to free jazz, he succeeds in tying the whole sequence together through a unity of emotion, showing us how many shades of “stirring” there can be.
It’s a record that, in Ribot’s own phrase, chooses to fight the good fight. As such, it’s in a great and honourable tradition. And at this moment in history, it feels more necessary than ever.
* Songs of Resistance is out now on the Anti- label.