5 April 2023
Grant Peeples has no time for nonsense. The veteran singer/songwriter and poet has released a passionate new protest record, A Murder of Songs, that confronts the grim threats facing American democracy with sadness, rage, defiance, and even a dose of dark humor. His country and folk music delivery extracts emotional investment from the listener, and pays homage to the familiar sounds of Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris.
Peeples is at his best when acting as a creative composer of music as well as a poet. There are songs that, like Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad, have so little musical accompaniment that they sound and feel more like spoken word exercises than music. But, also like Springsteen, Peeples is a lyric-forward songwriter. Whether it is a beautiful fiddle leading Peeples through the bouncy, “Revolutionary Reel,” or the Irish march, “Insurrection Song (January 6),” the thoughtful and tough lyrics benefit from the corresponding jolt of crafty music.
The latter is one of the highlights of the record – a fiery condemnation of the January 6th insurrectionists and their leaders. Peeples offers a clever paraphrase of Kris Kristofferson’s most famous lyric when he sing, “Freedom’s just another word for all we have to lose,” and concludes, “Let the sons of bitches rot in jail for what they tried to do.” Anyone who believes in American democracy will reply with a hearty “amen.”
“Liberal with a Gun” allows Peeples to showcase his dark sense of humor, warning right wing extremists that “liberals too have guns,” and that they are prepared to fight for justice, equality, and their own rights. “Let’s Start Killing Each Other” is another amusing, but sharp treatment of the cultural divide. Peeples offers his titular advice with a sardonic grin, but at the same time, makes the listener think about where the hatred will finally end – certainly, nowhere healthy.
Peeples’ A Murder of Songs is a clear-eyed, rough and tumble response to the dangers facing American democracy. It is not only good music, but relevant art.
David Masciotra (www.davidmasciotra.com) is the author of four books, including Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing, 2017) and Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky, 2015).