The Fracking Song
Songs from Things Heard
Music review by Jerome Clark
Gerry Tully is Irish, and he is a folk singer, but at least on Things Heard he is not an “Irish folk singer.” By that I mean nothing particularly Irish is happening here, and most of the songs are folk only in the revival, specifically the topical/protest, sense.
The approach takes its cues from the legacy of message-carrying singer-songwriters such as Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Leon Rosselson, Dick Gaughan and Ewan MacColl. In fact, Gaughan’s “The Workers’ Song” and MacColl’s “The Thirty Foot Trailer” appear among the 11 cuts here.
So do Ian Campbell’s “The Sun is Burning,” a stark anti-nuke anthem from the early Cold War, and Arlo Guthrie’s incendiary “Victor Jara” from a decade later. A leftist singer-songwriter prominent in his native Chile, Jara was arrested and sadistically murdered in the immediate aftermath of the 1973 military coup (which bore Nixon and Kissinger’s bloody handprints) against the democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende. It has been decades since I last heard the song on a 1976 Arlo album, and this version seems to have a different melody from the one that stands in my memory.
Unfortunately, the CD’s sleeve and accompanying sheet offer no writing credits, so the above information owes to my own prior knowledge. I recognize a couple of traditionals (“Spencer the Rover,” “Night Visiting Song”), fine songs splendidly performed, but the remainder are new to me. Originals, I presume, their subjects social discontent of one kind or another.
Inasmuch as I gaze out onto the world through the eyes of an unreconstructed New Deal liberal, I have no quarrel with any of the expressed sentiments. At the same time, as I have often reflected, protest songs — better at affirming convictions than changing minds — are almost always sung to the choir. (Nothing inherently wrong with that, but still….) Right-wing topical songs, which are rarer, nearly always are the creations of commercial country musicians. Unless your brain is cluttered with even more useless information than mine is, you’ll likely remember only two off-hand, both by the late Merle Haggard. Though not true of all, many such songs, wherever they land on the ideological spectrum, are so focused on message that the tune ends up only as a serviceable afterthought. That’s certainly true of “The Fracking Song” on Things Heard.
The principal accompaniment is acoustic guitar, which Tully plays with distinction and originality.
I should add that in other contexts, as a member of both Cosir and the Wolfe Tones, Tully is a singer of Irish folk songs. Here, though, he’s showcasing another side, with happy results, in a time that needs all the musical help it can get.