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Jefferson Pepper - American Evolution Vol. I (The Red Album)

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 17 / 2 / 2008



Jefferson Pepper - American Evolution Vol. I (The Red Album)
Label: American Fallout Records
Format: CD

intro

Ambitious and totally compelling initial volume in three CD, fifty song set from critically-acclaimed Pennsylvanian singer-songwriter Jefferson Pepper which traces the history of American history and culture, and which in this first chapter covers the period from 1492 to 1940


So how do you follow up a critically-acclaimed album like ‘Christmas In Fallujah’? Well, if you are the artist who created that though-provoking collection of songs from 2005 and go by the name of Jefferson Pepper you shut yourself away in your home studio for a couple of years to create a three CD, fifty song cycle which traces the history of American culture and music. It sounds like an ambitious task and not an easy one to tackle, but once again Pepper has, on the evidence of this first chapter which is a seventeen strong collection of songs covering the period from 1492 to 1940, shown that he is without a doubt one of America’s most talented singer-songwriters and that those early comparisons to greats such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young were well founded. As with ‘Christmas In Fallujah’, which brought the once fashionable protest album kicking and screaming into the 2000's, Pepper touches again upon many musical styles throughout these seventeen songs. Pepper, along with the likes of Steve Earle, is angry with what has happened to his country and this Pennsylvanian is, at this moment in time, getting his message across in his music better than anyone else. It’s probably not too far from the truth to state that Pepper, with this project, is going to educate far more people in the evolution of American culture and music than most schools or other establishments will. That Pepper is an exceptional lyricist is without question and he has that rare ability to get his message across simply and quickly; that he wraps these words up in melodies which are instantly accessible is another reason that his songs are so appealing but what is even more apparent on this latest collection is that even if Pepper was singing about less important or interesting matters then he could still carry it off because of his vocals. It was something of a surprise that even on the songs on ‘Christmas In Fallujah’ that showed a vocally more aggressive Pepper like ‘M-16’ and the cover of ‘This Land Is Your Land’, that there was a mellowness to his vocals. On one hand it sounded odd; his gentle tones should be spitting out those words, on the other it worked so well. On ‘American Evolution’ Pepper’s vocals really shine and the fact that for the most part his calm vocals are carrying out such powerful messages is a major attraction in these songs. If you agree with his theories and points of view is almost irrelevant. That voice and those melodies carry the songs even without such potent lyrics. Pepper comes across sounding like a favourite soft-spoken but knowledgeable uncle; one that because of the gentleness in his voice you feel compelled to listen to. He would appear to have it all ; warm vocals which have no idiosyncrasies about them, a gift for writing appealing melodies which cover all genres, especially on this album, (listen to ‘Riverbank Blues’ where we hear Pepper drenched in acoustic slide guitar showing a side which he didn’t reveal on his debut) and a master storyteller. Even the two instrumentals featured on the album, ‘Appomattox’ and ‘Lewis And Clark Homecoming’ don’t feel out of place. Both are driven by mandolin, fiddle, banjo and dobro with the former celebrating the end of the American Civil War and the latter celebrating the obvious. Far from being heavy going due to the subject matter Pepper proves that he can also inject a little lightness here and there into his lyrics. ‘Fine Fine Day’ covers the period when electricity was something new and the song starts optimistically, “ There’s a company runnin’ wires up and down my street, say they’re gonna bring good things to life with electricity”. The forthcoming thrill of having electric blankets and toothbrushes is soon diminished by the realisation that families singing together ended with the advent of electric powered radios and “some rich guys on a panel are controlling what you hear”. The song ends with the line “Now they’re building nuclear power plants for all the boys and girls, if we put the waste in boxcars they’d stretch around the world”; the joyfulness conveyed in the melody and in Pepper's vocals belying the seriousness of the lyrics. But for those of us who buckled at the knees at the sheer beauty of ‘Why’ on Pepper’s first album be prepared for ‘Paperback Romance’ on ‘American Evolution’ to do the same job again. The touching story of young Mary Ellen who was orphaned at a young age but who against all odds found love with Billy Campbell who was “freckled and heckled and shy, he spoke with a stutter, school bullies made him cry”. The life of young Mary Ellen who never expected more from life than “a paperback romance from the second hand store” unfolds in the prettiest tune Jefferson has ever written. ‘American Evolution Volume 2’ reaches Europe on 12th May and ‘Volume 3’ arrives on 7th July. Our American cousins are treated to Pepper’s fascinating tales of ordinary working people who are the backbone of his country a month or two earlier than us. A limited edition box set of all 3 CDs will be reaching these shores in early November. If those two forthcoming albums are just half as captivating as these seventeen songs then I’ll be first in line for my copy.



Track Listing:-
1 Can't Go Home
2 Columbus Day
3 The Sheep And The Goats
4 Lewis And Clark Homecoming
5 Trail Of Tears
6 Can't Come Back
7 Appomattox
8 Rockefellers
9 Only Survivor
10 Riverbank Blues
11 Dam In The River Of Life
12 Fine Fine Day
13 I Don't Wanna Be Alone
14 Stranger In The Glass
15 Paperback Romance
16 Wood And Wire
17 Primates Swingin'



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interviews


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


digital downloads




reviews


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
Christmas in Fallujah (2006)


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