With five engaging and completely different retrospectives behind them, Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman have long since mastered the art of repackaging and rerecording much of their best—if not best-known—works. With this collection of so-called "message songs," the lads may have finally outdone themselves.
Returning to the studio to commemorate their 40th anniversary, these vets—who continue to play small theaters, clubs and coffeehouses throughout East—sound as crisp and relevant as ever.
There's enough topical material to fill a historical text that would make Howard Zinn proud. Issues and headlines covered are as far-ranging as Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition ("Falling Down Clowns"), the homeless ("Shantytown"), war in Northern Ireland ("Remem-brance Day"), the 1972 Olympics tragedy ("Olga"), refugees in Southeast Asia ("Ban Vinai") and the passing of John Lennon ("Just Another Nothing With a Name," "Johnny's an Angel").
Some of these songs are achingly heartfelt—the Lennon tunes, "Remembrance Day" and "John Gary," a remake of one of Fowler's earliest compositions, in particular. But there is also a sense of whimsy, with Shulman's "Life in the '80s" and Fowler's "Better Watch Out (for the Rastafarians)."
ATS die-hards itching for new material will also be pleased with this offering, which includes four stellar first-time recordings.
Beefing up the sound is the presence of bassist Fred Holman. Having performed and recorded in many configurations over the years, the trio sound here fully accentuates ample strengths as songwriters, singers and players.