A Review of the CD
"Pay Day At Coal Creek"
by David Rovics

"Pay Day At Coal Creek"
by David Rovics

Copyright 1998
David Rovics
P.O. Box 995
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
ph: (617)-747-4460

This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 2/99
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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Warning: For those of you who wish to do none of the following, this release will make you think, laugh, seethe, cry, and wonder. Compiling a collection of mostly historical-based songs covering events and figures in American labor history, David Rovics engagingly tackles all manner of abuses and inequalities, while saluting the human spirit at its best. He also manages a dose or two of humor along the way.

Utilizing guitar and vocals, Rovics details the people and episodes that rarely see the light of day in current discourse or have already been discarded into the dust bin of historical insignificance. But just as the genetical knowledge of the family tree is helpful in determining and explaining illness, current events lack greater meaning without an awareness of the past. This is a beginning that should pique anyone's curiosity for further exploration.

There are tributes to Pretty Boy Floyd for his Robin Hood-like ways, Mother Jones for her tireless energy directed at bettering the lives and employment conditions of workers, the unjustly executed Sacco and Vanzetti for their efforts to improve the workers plight, and outrage expressed at the murder of 73 miner's children in the 1913 Calumet Massacre.

"(The Lowell) Factory Girl" is an especially moving lament detailing the horrific working conditions of young girls employed in textile mills, including this incredible fact: death at an average age of 26 due to inhaling cotton dust. Ghoulishly, one could argue that such an early demise might come as a relief when faced with working inhumane hours in unventilated rooms lit by oil lamps. The song is a plea, a wish, a dream for someone to come along and rescue a young lady away from such a hellhole. On this cut, Rovics creates an especially moving vocal affect, enhancing the overall effect and power of this song.

For those thinking, my, it's a bit grim so far, "The Rock Candy Mountain" provides the yang to the previous yin. A world dreamed up by a hobo, the sun shines all day, little streams of alcohol comes trickling down the rocks, there are cigarette trees, all the cops have wooden legs and dogs plastic teeth, there are no shorthand shovels, picks, axes and saws, and they "hung the jerk who invented work".

Phil Ochs' "Draft Dodger Rag" also provides glimpses of humor within this overall polite savaging of war and army life--complaining of asthma, allergies and flat feet while acknowledging carrying a purse and working in a defense plant--all as a means of evading military service.

"The Beggin", about a handicapped individual's survival on the street, plows back into heartbreaking territory. Rovics' compelling delivery chillingly bands with the melody and lyrics to showcase the pain and suffering in the song.

Al Grierson's "Candle For Dorruti," celebrates the indomitable universal spirit exhibited by individuals from many nations who rushed to Spain in defense of the democratically elected government during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Although the fascists under Francisco Franco triumphed, with assistance from Hitler, Mussolini and American financial interests, the song salutes and honors those who gave their lives fighting for the freedom of others "with a roll call of the fallen on the dust of Franco's grave".

If nothing else, and that in itself would be a tragedy, this release is a DJ's dream for the days leading up to and including Labor Day. However, Rovics' most engaging and moving aspect revealed here is the showcasing of ideals that dwarf our solitary or collective lives--ideals that provide greater meaning and purpose to life itself. These deserve to be broadcast each and every day.

Track List:

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