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Jefferson Pepper - American Evolution Vol. II (The White Album)

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 27 / 7 / 2008

Jefferson Pepper - American Evolution Vol. II (The White Album)
Label: American Fallout
Format: CD


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

If I had to say who I think is the most important artist in music today I would, without a moment’s hesitation, say Jefferson Pepper. The man is a genius. There is no other artist, even today when musicians are finally setting powerful words to music once again like Dylan and the like did more than 40 years ago, who is doing it as intelligently and eloquently as Pepper is. Not only is Pepper one of the best lyricists of our generation he can actually write a tune too and not just recycle the same melody over and over again. Sometimes we use music to make us feel good, to get us through the rough times, at other times to get drunk to, fall in love even, and then there are those times when we want music to say what we feel but can’t articulate ourselves; all the wrongs committed which affect the lives of us normal Joes and which we are powerless to do anything about. It’s those times when we need Jefferson Pepper. It might sound clichéd but it’s true; Pepper really is a man for the people and listening to him it’s hard not to imagine that in him we have someone who even after all his work is done, if he hasn’t managed to change the world, then his music will have given others the inspiration and courage to stand up and fight for what we know is right. Okay, rant over, but I, for one, don’t want to see Pepper’s work reappraised in the music press 5 years from now in one of those ‘lost classic’ pieces. This musician has made, so far, three perfectly brilliant albums in as many years, two of them have been released this year with a third to follow shortly so we should appreciate Pepper right now and not in hindsight. This is the second instalment in Peppers three CD project which traces the history of American culture and music. This time his ‘White Album’, which is a more than appropriate alternative title, covers the period from 1941 to 1989 and it opens with ‘On And On’ a song which brings to life the story of a farm boy who finds himself as a young man a long way from his home on the farm ; he’s on a beach in Normandy and, as Pepper sings, “He left home in a uniform and came home in a bag, Momma gave him to the nation and they gave her back a flag.” As usual Pepper, however, digs deeper, he goes just that little bit further than his contemporaries. He knows the irony in the fact that the boy was taught to shoot from a young age by his father. And his father’s words were the last thing he remembered as his life drained away, “Keep a rifle by your side boy, and no one will do you harm”. While this is neither the time nor place to discuss the Second World War, and this comes from someone whose parents were involved, Pepper once again reminds us that war isn’t always the answer. A life lost is a life lost. As before Pepper produced this collection of songs and once again he uses his skills as a musician and producer to wrap each song in the right setting. The pedal steel, violin and fiddle just intensify the sadness of the lyrics. To say that Pepper has given each and every one of these songs a sympathetic production would be an honest description. Although Pepper has his roots in the Americana genre he takes in various musical styles, as he intended to do with this project, through these seventeen songs. While there is an abundance of pretty country / folk infused tunes that belie his biting lyrics much of the time, there is also the out and out rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Real Good Time’ once again with exceptional lyrics, this time about being in at the beginning of that era which really have to be read in full. Often when we talk about protest albums the first thing people think of is songs concerning war or the government, but Pepper again goes one step further. Many of his songs concern either the way times have changed as in ‘Disposable Me, Disposable You’ which although it is describing the unexpected affluence of the 1950's could well be applied even more to the way we live today, or the sad tale of Denny in ‘Break The Chain’ who was born into a poor alcoholic family. When he eventually does break out and tries to make a decent life he accidentally takes the life of the baby of the woman he does find happiness with. It’s a tragic tale and Pepper brings the characters to life and highlights the ups and downs of the poor guy’s life with such skill it’s hard not to be affected. ‘Ben’ is yet another sad tale. After describing feeling something of an outcast by the other kids and finally finding a friend in Ben, Pepper again articulates so well the way even the best of friends grow apart but war again rears it’s ugly head, “ Ben went off to the army and I went off to school, he came back a double amputee and I came back a fool, he died one April morning of a bullet to the brain, they said it was self-inflicted but I know this cruel world’s to blame”. Pepper shows his teeth again musically on ‘Land That I Love’ taking a harder stance and showing once again that he write rock ‘n’ roll tunes just as well as he can a country / folk one. He raises a smile or two in ‘The Ballad Of Betty Wulfrum’ but as always with Pepper he shows both sides of the coin; Betty desperately wants to be the popular Jenny McClure and because she is “lucky to live in America where your appearance determines your worth” after a little nip and tuck and a change of schools she can become the most popular girl in school. Pepper leaves you wondering if this is such a good thing. ‘One Percent’ is Pepper gone disco, albeit maybe the only disco song ever to feature pedal steel. It’s strange to hear Pepper tackle a completely different genre but he does it with ease, again his lyrics are cutting, the song sounds like a hybrid of Paul Hardcastle and Lazy Boy and it works extremely well which is no mean feat for an artist who hasn’t released any other recordings which are remotely like this song. ‘Orphans Of Endorphins’ is another acute observation by Pepper this time detailing the sad lives of those battling drug addiction and with searing guitar showing Pepper’s rockier side it’s another superb melody with a chorus that simply won’t leave your head. The lyrics “ There’s a wet and weary woman on the corner, black mascara running in the rain, and there’s a well-dressed man in a Coupe de Ville who owns her with a meagre weekly ration of cocaine” sets the scene nicely for the closing song, ‘Another White Line’ which also sees Pepper rocking out and lyrically, well the title says it all. A nice touch is the way he sings “It’s my body and I’ll die if I want to, die if I want to, die if I want to” recalling Lesley Gore’s ‘It’s My Party’ and highlighting just how innocent those times seem now. To end with something that isn’t directly related to this particular album I would like to say that there is another facet about Pepper’s work that sets him apart from other artists. We all know that we shouldn’t like the same music as our parents, at least not until we get to the age when we realise that they weren’t so wrong in their musical tastes after all, and I get a lot of flak sometimes from my son and his friends over the music I play and like but Pepper is one of the few artists who, when I get their latest release, I can’t leave lying about the house. My son, his friends, visitors of any age, they all show an interest in his work. It’s not so often that happens and reinforces the fact that Pepper must have that special something that appeals to all age groups and tastes. I had no doubts that Pepper would present us with another fine album, he showed with Volume 1 that he had more than one great album in him and as great as ‘Christmas In Fallujah’ is the guy just keeps getting better and better. I’d go as far as to say that these seventeen songs make this his strongest album yet and set a very high standard for the last part of this trilogy. I also have no doubts that in a few months when Pepper releases that final part (The Blue Album) that I will be as blown away by that collection as I am by this one.

Track Listing:-
1 On And On
2 Civilized Savior
3 Real Good Time
4 Disposabe Me, Disposable You
5 Collection Of Angels
6 Break The Chain
7 Good Morning Mrs. Stine
8 Ben
9 Land That I Love
10 The Ballad Of Betty Wulfrum
11 Doin' It Right
12 Crucify
13 One Percent
14 The Crying Land
15 Coming Down
16 Orphans Of Endorphine
17 Another White Line

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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. I (The Red Album) (2008)
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
Christmas in Fallujah (2006)

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