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David Serby

Poor Man's Poem – 2011 (CDBY)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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CDs by David Serby

Los Angeles based singer/songwriter David Serby abandons his usual honky-tonk style for a folk balladeer approach on "Poor Man's Poem." Serby uses stories of 19th century America to relate to current economic conditions. The plight of working class laborers is portrayed in the opening title track, an examination of the Pullman Rail Strike of 1894, that expresses the frustration of exploited workers ("We work twelve hour days on the factory line/Building cars for kings and queens"), the uprising of the workers ("So let's take his bank while we still have time/Blow up every god damn loan") and the inevitable unfortunate outcome ("There are seventeen mounds of fresh turned dirt/Where seventeen widows wail").

The haunting Evil Men tells the story of a brutal range war killing ("We buried his head beneath a bent mesquite/Then we tied his hands and bound his feet/Sent a headless rider across the plain/To run the shepherds off this range"), while the singer's confession of guilt suggests such evil is timeless ("I confess we were evil men/But no one thought that way back when/The world's full of evil men/That's the way it's always been").

Another highlight is Watch Over Her Baby, the tale of a 14-year-old widow compelled by her financial status ("She's just a young wash girl without paper or coin") to abandon her child on the steps of a savings and loan ("Rich women and men will walk up those steps/She prays one takes her boy into their breast").

Elsewhere the plight of the civil war veteran in Sugar Creek ("A little laudanum for my whiskey/I'm going down to Sugar Creek/Nobody's gonna miss me/I'm going down to Sugar Creek") is used to reference the high suicide rate of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though relentlessly bleak Serby's thoughtful lyrics and their relevance to current conditions make this self-released effort a compelling collection.