Good old Studs Terkel. Not only does he tell Ken Burns a thing or two about the early jazz scene, but he also shares his high, dry voice and knowledge of the labor movement on Bucky Halker's most recent release: a selection of protest songs from the first half of the 20th century. Terkel recites two poems, and Robbie Fulks sings backup on the title track.
The work of Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Joe Hill shows up alongside that of lesser-known writers on this well-chosen collection. Instead of a Weaveresque, reverently straitlaced interpretation, and instead of a cloying attempt at faux rusticity, Halker delivers a honky-tonkified message of protest. His renditions are made all the more effective by their electrified production, an indication that these songs are still valuable today.
Songs like the title cut and Guthrie's "Do Re Mi" are vibrant with steel guitar, while "Which Side Are You On?" comes across as a bluesy, funky challenge. It's a little much to hear Halker attempt growling vocals on Leadbelly's "Bourgeois Blues," but this is an otherwise well-produced gathering of songs deserving to live on. (P.O. Box 257608, Chicago, IL 60625; Bucky Halker.)