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Gerry Spehar

Anger Management – 2018 ( Self-released)

Reviewed by Jeff Lincoln

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CDs by Gerry Spehar

Protesting has re-entered the American Zeitgeist, so it does stand to reason that a fresh stock of protest music will make up the soundtrack. Gerry Spehar, a Colorado folkie with electric tendencies, has signed up for a whole album's worth. A journeyman songwriter who's opened for a lot of famous folks, Spehar is now in (and still remembers) the '60s. The presidential election of 2016 unsettled him badly, and it sent him on a spate of writing blues for Blue-staters. Fortunately, it's not quite as glum as that sounds.

The record uses a wide musical palette, with everything from bluegrass ("Thank You Donald") to a nearly Zappa-esque Spanish country western epic ("Greed"). Things get really loopy with "Carnival," circus music sung by the celestial voice of Lyndon B. Johnson. Spehar has a pleasant enough tone - Don Williams comes to mind -- at least when he's not reaching for higher hillbilly notes. And it helps when the crooner takes a long view of history - "Pearl Harbor" is probably the best tune in the bunch. The waltzing time reinforces how the dance of the past lingers on in the tendency of man to make war. "Freedom to Grab" takes the silver medal, a song about horniness led by Creole horns. It's zany enough to qualify as biting, not bitter, satire.

But political music always runs the risk of oversimplification. Opinions are one thing, but broad brushstrokes (e.g, labelling masses of people as money grubbing bigots) deserve more consideration from anyone who wants to be an artist. Spehar namechecks Woody Guthrie often in content and promo for this record. Yet, the lionized Guthrie has a complicated story - for one, the dustbowl king sniffed out and derided Hitler's Fascism, then bought into Communism wholesale. The closing song of "What Would Jesus Do?" takes a similar cherrypicked path, i.e., Christ wouldn't join the NRA. A true enough postulate, but Christ also had a lot to say about the vocally self-righteous who don't own up to their own shortcomings.

Maybe the work of "anger management" is really one of personal inventory and recognizing connections to everyone - even the other half of the polarized nation Spehar disdains. There's a nice musical variety on display, but the subject matter is far too monotone. Still, this is a pet project with a point of view, and its audience will know who they are.