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Jefferson Pepper - Christmas in Fallujah

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 22 / 10 / 2006

Jefferson Pepper - Christmas in Fallujah
Label: American Fallout
Format: CD


Excellent debut album from Americana Folk-Punk Troubadour and Pennsylvanian singer-songwriter Jefferson Pepper

Don’t be misled. There are bright, shiny baubles on the cover, song titles containing the words Christmas and Bethlehem, even one song called ‘Christmas Tree’ and the whole package is festively clad in red. But this is no 'Phil Spector Christmas Album' and the sound of Nat King Cole couldn’t be further away. The toy soldiers lurking behind those Christmas decorations on the cover, the banner declaring “It’s Not About The Oil” held up by a smiling Christmas elf on the CD inlay and other song titles like ‘M-16’ paint a truer picture that all is not well with this world, Christmas or not, and serves as notice that Jefferson Pepper is not about to get all sentimental on us. Billed as "an Americana Folk-Punk Troubadour" by his record company which is without a doubt the best way of describing new talent Pepper, this album was released in some countries last year and is now finally available in the UK through American Fallout Records. Pepper has been writing songs for 20 years but ‘Christmas In Fallujah’ is his debut album. He financed the recording by taking out a second mortgage on the home he built in the hills of rural Pennsylvania. The album is dedicated to his neighbour, 21 year old David Maple. Maple joined the army to train as a medic and is now serving with the US army in Iraq. The title song of this album is the tale of a soldier stationed in Iraq and is quite simply one of the most effecting and heartbreaking songs you will ever hear. It’s also one of the best anti-war / protest songs / call it whatever you like ever to be recorded. Ever. As this is in the year that Neil Young also released one of his best ever albums in ‘Living With War’, one wonders if Young had heard ‘Christmas In Fallujah’ before he recorded that album. The two singer-songwriters obviously feel the same way about a lot of things in the world today. But while Young returned to the electric guitar rocking stance for his album Pepper has taken a much broader sweep. For starters not all the songs are about the evils of war. Pepper touches upon failed relationships along with his feelings on all that is wrong with his country. Then on a musical level he touches a number of bases; acoustic laments rub shoulders with what is best described as a punk-rock version of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land’ before taking in the traditional instrumental ‘Soldier’s Joy’, all mandolin and fiddle along the way. But not once does Pepper let his obvious talent for writing strong melodies with either cutting or heartbreaking lyrics slip. Comparisons to the young Bob Dylan are unavoidable really. Again, one can’t help but wonder if some of the praise Dylan is receiving for his latest album shouldn’t really be directed towards Pepper. In spite of all the recent critical acclaim it’s been a good while since Dylan cut anything as good and strong as Pepper has here. Space doesn’t allow a track by track review which is what this album really deserves so to concentrate on just a couple of the songs I’d choose the aforementioned title track as the first one. And that really demands that the lyrics are printed in full with Pepper twisting the lyrics of certain Christmas songs in the chorus of ‘Christmas In Fallujah’(“Uncle Sam’s made a list he’s checking it twice…sometimes the names they get mixed up, if we get it right half the time that’s close enough”). This is after the song opens with a sad, lonely fiddle and Pepper taking on the role of a soldier (“I bring the gift of freedom through unprovoked attack”). We later hear the same soldier declare “I’m sorry about your mother; she’s somewhere down in a hole”. I can only repeat what I wrote earlier; the song is simply heartbreaking. You can almost hear Steve Earle thinking “Wish I’d written that!” But to show another side of Pepper’s writing I’d choose the failed relationship song which is ‘Bethlehem, PA’. With dobro, mandolin, fiddle and pedal steel it’s an alt-country gem of a song and Pepper again shows he can write lyrics that few can match (“She never asked for anything, I gave her what she asked”). All wrapped up in such a gorgeous melody; the song is simply stunning. The album is very eclectic as said before; it’s just amazing that Pepper can take on all genres and excel at them all. But by doing so Pepper has made the best album of the year so far and as November is looming it’s highly unlikely that anything else yet to be released this year is even going to come remotely close. It’s an absolute gem of an album and just forget the Christmas connections; this one will be played all year round and for many years to come.

Track Listing:-
1 Christmas in Fallujah
2 M-16
3 Bethlehem, Pa
4 Interstate Highway
5 Stranded
6 Back to 1999
7 Christmas Tree
8 Deceived
9 Soldier's Joy
10 Why?
11 Armageddon for Sale
12 This Land Is Your Land
13 Little Boy Falling
14 Plastic Illuminated Snowman

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Interview (2006)
Jefferson Pepper - Interview
Pennysylvanian singer-songwriter Jefferson Pepper took out a second mortgage to record his debut album 'Christmas in Fallujah'. Malcolm Carter talks to him about the biting lyrics behind its gentle melodies and its strong political message


American Evolution Vol. II (The White Album) (2008)
Eloquent and highly impressive second volume in three CD, fifty song set from Pennsylvanian singer-songwriter Jefferson Pepper which traces the history of American history and culture, and which in this second chapter covers the period from 1941 to 1989
American Evolution Vol. I (The Red Album) (2008)

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