Written by: Dave Cantrell
Sadly, yet stirringly, some strains of crucial resistance refuse go out of fashion. Though the songs being revisited here, realized anew with fresh eyes, ears, and arrangements, date from the Spanish Civil War that spanned the years 1936-1939 and saw, basically, the democratic, left-leaning Republicans, aided crucially by a cadre of sympathetic fighters from around the world, not the least of them the Abraham Lincoln Brigade flooding in from the fired-up, idealized leftist camp of the United States, eventually fall to the cruel ranks of the right-wing Nationalists led by Francisco Franco (resulting in a regime that would last into the ’70’s), the content of the tracks that make up this remarkable album – released on Important Records – has barely aged a day.
Recorded live in 2016 at the Japan Society where a reunion of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade has been held since the 1940’s (frequently led, until his death, by Pete Seeger), Barbez’s renditions of these by-now canon-worthy songs represent a modern-day reflection of our current political moment, rife as it alarmingly is with themes that were only too familiar to those that fought these original battles. Pulling strands from all over the place – traditional European folk (check “Freiheit”), woke indie that could come from an Arcade Fire/Iron & Wine mash-up (“Song of the United Front”), relaxed-but-edgy world music grooves (the clarinet-led “No Pasarán”), to a kind of avant-pop traditionalism (a rousing, devout version of what’s by now the classic “L’internationale”) and the heartfelt operatic village-ism of “Venga Jaleo” – this almost too-astute barometer of our current global situation can’t help but be innately moving.
Already including a who’s who of luminary musicians – clarinetist Peter Hess from the Philip Glass Ensemble, theremin magician Pamela Stickney (David Byrne), marimba and vibraphone guy Danny Tunick from the Clean, guitarist Dan Kaufman, violinist Catherine McRae, Shearwater’s Peter Lettre on bass with Sway Machinery’s John Bollinger on drums – Barbez is joined here by singer Velina Brown and Dafna Naphtali on background with Sebastianan Faber on trumpet, while the album is mixed by the legendary Martin Bisi,
If ever we needed a spiritual boost from our storied past, it’s now. Facing a banal wind of encroaching fascism, regardless of what it calls itself, whatever voices of spirited resistance we can muster are necessary beyond description. Should we be feeling knocked down dragged out and lost in the absurdist fray, Barbez is here to remind us: resistance isn’t futile, it’s necessary and crucial. We will – will – win this round. All we gotta do is keep our eyes on the always gleaming prize.