Insights to the state of the Western World – from veteran campaigner George Mann.
Release Date: 19th October 2021
Label: Self release
Formats: CD / Download / Streaming
I’ve had a good time this afternoon. In between receiving updates of the progress of our site editor’s old man’s booze-inflected Christmas Shopping expedition, I’ve had the pleasure of listening to A World Like This, the new album from Ithaca, NY polemicist, George Mann.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure – and until today, I had to include myself amongst that number – George is a singer-songwriter and former Union Organizer who specializes in expressing his views on the state of the US nation (and, by extension, the whole of the Western World) and in revitalizing 20th century songs from the labor and social injustice movements. And it’s a task that he accomplishes with sympathy, good humour and occasionally swiping satire. For the past 25 years George has been a prominent figure on the front lines of protest, workers’ rights and anti-war campaigns. His previous works include A Union Man: The Life and Work of Julius Mangolin, a documentary film he directed and produced about the New York union leader, anti-war campaigner and, coincidentally, George’s former performing partner, Hail to the Thief, a collection of anti-Bush protest songs featuring, amongst others, Tom Paxton, Utah Phillips and Billy Bragg, and a long string of albums – most recently 2020’s The Coronavirus Sessions. In days of normality, he conducts a frantic programme of gigs – around 200/year – including appearances in Nursing Homes and at Veterans’ gatherings. George Mann is a fellow who means what he says.
Recorded at Electric Wilburland Studios, a former church in Newfield Hamlet, NY, by producer Will Russell, A World Like This is a fine album by a fine artist, ably supported by a tight group of fine musicians – Doug Robinson on bass, Michael Wellen on drums, Rich DePaolo on lead guitar, Mary Brett Lawson on backing vocal harmonies and Molly Macmillan on keyboards. The sound is classic Americana, tinged with country rock, splashes of doo-wop and 60s folk in the best traditions of George’s heroes Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger. George’s gentle, tuneful voice belies the often-uncompromising messages in many of the songs, making A World Like This a rare example of a political album that also contains a lot of great tunes.
The hopeful, optimistic, Let The Healing Begin gets the show on the road. It’s an acoustic song that deals with the aftermath of the 6th January White House occupation by Trump’s fired-up zombies; Rich adds some wonderful slide guitar passages and the harmony singing on the “Now we’re standing in the near-ruins of Armageddon” line in the song’s chorus is delicious.
The full band gets going for the country-flavoured A Cross And A Beer, a sobering song that addresses youthful insecurity in a story about a young man who, overwhelmed by parental pressures and expectations, ended up in the town’s cemetery. The hilarious, infectious, bouncy We Only Turn Right Around Here tells the tale of the Georgia sheriff who, in the wake of Trump’s election defeat, allegedly banned all traffic from turning left in his town. Beneath the fun and incredulity, however, there are a few sinister tones, and lyrics like “So don’t come here with your liberal fake news, or if you just look a bit weird, We don’t mind taking the long way home, We only turn right around here leave no doubt of the type of welcome that will await anyone like us who has the misfortune to visit that particular town.
Marijohn Wilkins’ and Danny Dill’s Long Black Veil is the first of the three covers on the album. Packaged as a tribute to The Band, George makes a good job of interpreting this well-known song and guest Sally Taylor’s violin contributions are wonderful. The title track, A World Like This is, perhaps, the album’s most despairing song. Written during the deepest trough of the pandemic, the song’s opening lines: “I don’t think I can live in a world like this, We can’t even hug, we can’t even kiss,” just about say it all. Typically, though, the strummed acoustic guitars, Rich’s soaring lead and Doug’s deep, resonant bass give the desolate lyrics a tasty Americana sugar-coating that helps the song’s message to be absorbed smoothly.
JD Loudermilk’s Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye is a soothing slice of doo-wop, with lyrics that describe a lasting, dependable, relationship. It’s billed as “The perfect antidote to the depression of A World Like This,” and that’s exactly what it is.
The Ballad of Julie M tells the story of George’s friend and former collaborator, Julius Margolin. A gentle acoustic number with a tune reminiscent of Dylan’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door, it was written back in 1998, but many of the lyrics are more relevant than ever in 2021. Lines like “Yeah, he looks like the mouse that squeaked, but you should hear him roar,” make me wish I’d met Julius myself and observations like “If God exists, then I’m surely dead, And it aint’t no sin to be called a red,” carry a particular resonance in these days of populism and religious intolerance. It’s respectful and sincere, but not without the humour that illuminates many of the songs on A World Like This.
The chugging Maybe Next Year is another reflection of the disappointments, frustrations and lost opportunities caused by the pandemic. There’s more of that great guitar from Rich and the backing harmonies are, once again, spot-on. The album’s third and final cover version, Si Khan’s They All Sang “Bread and Roses” is a look-back at the protest movements of the sixties. The chorus lyrics, ‘And we all sang “Bread and Roses,” “Joe Hill” and “Union Maid,” We linked our arms and told each other “We Are Not Afraid.” “Solidarity Forever” would go rolling through the hall, “We Shall Overcome” together one and all’ convey a powerful and thoughtful message typical of Si Khan, especially in the song’s final lines: “And just as we have drawn our strength from those who now are gone, younger heads will take our work, And carry on.” Let’s hope that they do!
The (thankfully) departed Trump gets a shot across the bows with the happy, jazzy shuffle, I Don’t Miss What’s-His-Name At All. With lines like “That pompous, gaseous old windbag made the last four years a drag” and “He led a massive insurrection, but took us in the wrong direction,” this is a song that, surely, NEEDED to be written and George certainly nails it. Quite brilliant!
After the vitriol of I Don’t Miss… George thought it would be a good idea to sooth his listeners with an interlude of running water sounds. Healing Waters is 38 seconds of just that, intended, apparently, to Quiet and cleanse the soul. It made me want to pee!
All good things must come to an end and, appropriately, A World Like This is concluded with The Last Song, a soft acoustic tribute to the final songs recorded by Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Hank Williams and The Beatles. Molly Macmillan coaxes some wonderful flute sounds from her keyboard to complement what will, no doubt, be George’s closing number whenever he starts to play gigs again. It’s an excellent way to close a thoroughly compelling album.
Listen to I Don’t Miss What’s-His-Name At All, a track from the album, here: