Insightful lyrics highlight dark stories that sit alongside a dose of hopefulness for the future.
Continuing the message from his 2018 protest album ‘Anger Management’, folk-country troubadour Gerry Spehar picked an apt day indeed to release his latest EP ‘Lady Liberty’: 20th January 2021, also known as Presidential Inauguration Day, which will be etched into the minds of many forever as the day America again reclaimed the crown of democracy, ridding itself of Donald Trump and putting Joe Biden in his place.
“As we mark this trip around the sun / As day two is conceived on this day one / As we swear and inaugurate / As we mark this move to hope from hate,” sings Spehar, joyous that the change in government means the promise of sanctuary for those fleeing oppression will soon again be reinstated. “Give me your tired, your poor / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore / Your huddled masses yearning to be free,” he continues on the chorus of the groove heavy opener with its hints of psychedelia.
‘Laura Dean’ is a contemplative acoustic track that Spehar has dedicated to the brave people out there fighting the pandemic day in and day out (“In a plastic mask and PPE through tears she cannot see / Laura Dean moves in a dream to the beep of a machine / She talks to her Creator, asking Him to shine a light / Sits down, takes her hand and says goodnight”). It’s a song also in memory of those who we have lost to Covid-19 over the past year, which is interesting in that it’s the kind of song that would fit entirely comfortably within the back catalogue of the late John Prine.
While this ostensibly looks to be a six-track EP, when you look closer you’ll discover that it isn’t quite so simple: track three, entitled ‘Immigrant Suite’ is a 12-minute long epic, but it can also be broken down into three more manageable chunks by instead listening to (or along with) tracks four, five, and six.
The acoustic ballad ‘Barrier Reef’ is the first of those three tracks, telling the story of a young girl’s fraught solo Rio Grande crossing in a desperate attempt to find her father in Virginia; the harmonies provided here by Christine Spehar work beautifully, adding even more depth to an already weighty song. ‘Boy and Beast’ follows, and it’s another acoustic ballad – heavy on the fingerpicking this time – with more lush harmonies and another urgent story to tell: young Enrique boards a train (known as the Beast) to meet his mother in the promised land that is Los Angeles (“He holds a scrap of paper with his Mama’s phone / In the state of Los Angeles where he hopes this beast is going / He tears it up and keeps her number in his head / Where no one can find it and nobody’s dead”).
The final track of the EP – and of the ‘Immigrant Suite’ – is ‘Meet Me at the Moon’. The bright sound of a trumpet declares itself before we move into an acoustic ballad, but with a slight difference: a Spanish chorus that sits alongside music that remains upbeat despite the sometimes bleak nature of the lyrics (“She was beautiful, twelve years old / They wouldn’t leave her alone / We were planning to send her up north to me / She never made it home”).
While much of this project sees Spehar look back and commemorate recent trauma and losses, there is a hope there too. “Meet me at the moon tonight,” he tells us on the final line, an encapsulation of the spirit of a brighter tomorrow in this valuable project – and it’s one that might just aid us in the dark fight still ahead.