Country Joe: No cobwebs on this radical



No cobwebs on this radical

Something Borrowed, Something New
Country Joe McDonald
Big Beat
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Review by Barry Healy

"Country Joe! Where's he been all these years?", older Green Left readers may ask. What happened to this emblematic figure from the '60s political counter-culture between his career peak in the early 1970s and now?

This compilation proves that, while he hasn't been able to keep up with the likes of Bob Dylan in career terms, Country Joe certainly hasn't been letting the creative grass grow under his feet. While producing 31 albums, he hasn't let cobwebs form on his progressive political commitments either.

Like so many others, Country Joe was "downsized" during the years of Reaganomics. He was dumped by his record company in 1980 and paid out, not in money, but in studio time. So, he has been plugging away producing great music and struggling to get it noticed by a wider audience.

PictureCountry Joe carved out a radical political space in the San Francisco "Summer of Love" hippie cultural explosion as leader of Country Joe and the Fish. The Fish grew out of the Berkeley university wing of the youth rebellion and mixed their acid with anti-Vietnam War action.

Two of the most compelling tracks here are from this period — the hilarious, anti-war "Kiss My Ass" ("1-2-3-4, we don't want your fucking war!") and the spiritual marching song "Free Some Day" ("Come on and make revolution, join the people's army").

Country Joe's outlook was shaped by his parents, both life-long members of the Communist Party (they named their son after Stalin!). His politics are much more rounded than the CPUSA's, but he certainly appreciated his mother's devotion to the working-class cause.

"Carry On", produced in 1994, is a homage to her after her death. It is a touching expression of the power of devotion to the movement for human liberation and shows the heart of Country Joe's writing: a determination to express human courage and encourage morale in the face of the madness of everyday capitalist life.

"Her whole life was dedicated to a particular cause", Joe says. "When she died, a lot of things died with her: an old attitude about how to change the world, a belief system."

Country Joe has given up neither his beliefs nor his sense of fun. Always known for his ability to lampoon capitalism, in "Your Last Few Records Just Didn't Make It" he almost provides a commentary on his experiences with his main recording label, laced with humour to soften the barbs.

Some songs protest against nuclear power and war, others trippily explore alternative views of reality.

With his combination of commitment, humour, heart and musical skill, Country Joe is a worthy claimant to the mantle of Woody Guthrie. Something Borrowed, Something New is a wonderful introduction for new listeners and a satisfying catch-up for older fans.

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