In times of great political and social unrest musicians are often outspoken orators on the topics they find so important. From Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Edwin Starr to The Clash, Public Enemy and Kendrick Lamar artists have used their unique talents to express their disillusion with matters of injustice. Even here in New Jersey we have bands like Montclair’s The Porchistas who aren’t shy to voice their opinions on current events. There is also Jersey Beat writer/editor Jim Testa whose excellent 2016 EP American Spirits & Artisanal Cheese took on hipsters and Chris Christie among others.
Last week Testa released his latest EP Testamonials (Songs I Wish I Wrote). These are five songs with a social conscience by some of his favorite artists that have in some way influenced or inspired him. The Bill Steele song “Garbage”, made famous by Pete Seeger, opens the EP with a bouncy organ, bass and drum beat and addresses the environmental concerns that still exist to this day. Are we also “filling up our minds with garbage?” Quite a sing along. Peter Stampfel & The Bottlecaps’ “Random Violence” examines moray decay. “Luv, Luv, Luv” by the Pansy Division, which premiered over at our friend Cool Dad Music last week, wonders what love really is in these interesting times. In the end maybe “people just want to connect.” The Phil Ochs acoustic staple “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” gets updated lyrics here. Trayvon Martin, Bruce Springsteen concerts and the current election are here in the updated version. The closer is, of course, a Bob Dylan cover with a twist on the title. “Subterranean Dan McLane Blues” is a punkier version of the original complete with horns courtesy of Harmonica Lewinskies’ Madeline Gioia, Chris Tull and Marco Sanchez. It works wonderfully.
The EP, recorded at Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen, sounds fantastic thanks to Oliver Ignatius who produced and engineered all but one track. The musicianship is also top notch with the Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen All-Stars (Ignatius, Sam Braverman, Jamie Frey and Chadbourne Oliver) and special guest stars Jack Tabby on viola, Foggy Otis on ukulele, Tris McCall on electric piano and organ.
As it is Testa’s birthday today, head over to his Bandcamp page and send him a few bucks for this great collection of songs.
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