We were happy to hear from Florida-based songwriter Rod MacDonald, who recently sent us a copy of his most recent CD A Tale of Two Americas. Influenced by artists such as Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, MacDonald has been playing music professionally since the 1970s and was a proponent of the Greenwich Village Folk revival movement in the 80s. His background in Law and Journalism has contributed to his talent at turning facts into songs. MacDonald (guitar, vocal, harmonica) is joined on the 2005 album by Mark Dann (bass, guitar) and Steve Eriksson (guitar, mandolin, dobro.)

Stylistically, A Tale of Two Americas alternates between folk (complete with fingerpicking and harmonica), country, and rock ‘n’ roll, and is sometimes infused with other musical flavors, such as in the vaguely La Bamba-esque Treat You Right or the Latin riffs in the tongue-in-cheek My Beloved Enemy. Also notable on the album are the opening track Ray and Ron, a cleverly constructed song that compares the careers of Ray Charles and Ronald Reagan (who died six days apart in 2004), Governator, a song about Arnold Schwarzenegger (and melodically a bit reminiscent of Steve Goodman’s City of New Orleans), and the more driving True Love. MacDonald writes with passion and knowledge about such topics as politicians, war, terrorism, peace, hope and love.

Smithsonian Folkways honored MacDonald in 2003 by including 27 of his songs in their Fast Folk music collection. He has also been featured in Sing Out! Magazine (Summer 2003 and Winter 2006).

In 2001 MacDonald wrote My Neighbors in Delray (click link to watch his performance of the song), one of the most sensitive and powerful songs about the events of Sept 11th that we have come across. The song can also be found on his 2002 album “Recognition,” which can be purchased here.

MacDonald continues to perform and tour extensively. For more information, visit his web site.


Bruce Cockburn and General Romeo Dallaire are planning a benefit concert to raise money for Child Soldiers Initiative, a group organized by researchers at the University of Victoria School of Child and Youth Care dedicated to the elimination of the use of child soldiers in Africa. The group is also working on developing a program to re-integrate these children into their communities.

“Removing all children from combat is an essential step to end cycles of violence,” says Dallaire, “and having Bruce Cockburn’s important support on this mission enables many more people to learn of the initiative”

The concert is scheduled to take place on October 4th at 7:30 pm at the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium and will consist of an evening of spoken word and songs. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at the auditorium’s web site.

Pete Seeger\'s Banjo (photo by Annie Leibovitz, 2001)
Pete Seeger has teamed up with USC Canada to raise money for its Seeds of Survival Program, a program that “promotes long-term food security for marginal farming communities in developing countries.” The eighty-nine year old folk icon, along with grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger and New York folk/blues musician Guy Davis, started the tour in Montreal on July 5th and will play in Toronto, Kingston, and Ottawa, Ontario over the next week.

The sold-out Montreal matinée show, presented by local Hello Darlin’ Productions, was held at the River’s Edge Community Church in Montreal’s West end. The group opened with the traditional folk song Midnight Special followed by Seeger’s Turn Turn Turn (popularized by the Byrds in 1965). The set also included If I Had A Hammer, Sailing Up, Sailing Down, Sticking With The Union, I Don’t Want Your Millions Mister, Guantanemera, Take It From Dr. King, This Little Light of Mine, and She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain, among other songs.

Despite his years and failing singing voice, Seeger’s spirit and energy shone through as he encouraged the crowd to sing and harmonize and spoke with conviction about his music and politics. His banjo and guitar playing were confident and musical, albeit a little shaky. Rodriguez-Seeger supported his grandfather with sensitivity, and proved himself to be a strong vocalist, guitar player and banjo player in his own right. Multi-instrumentalist Davis took center stage several times, and also supported the other two on guitar, mandolin and percussion, even pulling out a banjo at one point near the end of the show.

Born in 1919, the youngest son of musicologist Charles Seeger, Pete Seeger proved to the world that songs have the power to not only “help distract you from your troubles”, but to “understand your troubles, and do something about your troubles.” Blacklisted for seventeen years during the prime of his career for Communist sympathies, Seeger nevertheless became an international symbol for peace and resistance through music. He was a folk revivalist, a songwriter, and an activist working for labour, civil rights, anti-war and environmental movements. He played with (among others) Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, The Almanac Singers, and The Weavers.

His many awards and recognitions include Cuba’s Felix Varela Medal for humanistic and artistic work in defense of the environment and against racism (1999), induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1996), The National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts (1994), and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award (1993). There is a petition to have Seeger nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, a documentary, will be released this year as part of PBS’s American Masters series.

Seeger resides in Beacon, New York with his wife Toshi where he continues to write topical songs, educate children through song, and do work to help solve local environmental and social problems.

A multimedia museum honoring Woodstock is opening in neighboring Bethel, NY. The goal of the museum is to document the Woodstock event and to put it into historical and political context, helping to show the impact that it had on music, politics and American society.

Read some articles about it:
AFP (Agence France-Presse),
Time Magazine,
New York Times

or visit the museum’s web site

I had the chance to see Steve Earle play at the Théatre Outremont in Montreal this past March. He was on tour promoting his latest album Washington Square Serenade. The album, his first in 4 years, was written as a tribute to New York City and the protest movement of the 1960s. Earle is known for his political songwriting, and this album is no exception. Some of the best tracks are “City of Immigrants” (a defiant response to CNN anchor Lou Dobbs’ views), “Satellite Radio”, and a remake of the Tom Waits song “Way Down in the Hole”.

The live show was unfortunately not as a strong as the album, due in part to the fact that he chose to perform the songs pared down from a full band setting to just Earle, his wife Alison Moorer singing back-up on a few tunes, and a DJ.

Washington Square Serenade
won a Grammy earlier this year for best contemporary folk/Americana album. Check out Steve Earle’s myspace site to hear some of the tunes.

Or watch the video for “City of Immigrants” featuring New York Brazilian band Forro in the Dark.

A collection of Nina Simone’s protest songs and interviews from the 1960s and early 1970s was released in April 2008. Simone, who passed away in 2003, was known for her work as a pianist, singer, arranger, and composer. The songs on this collection are not to be confused with her love-themed jazz recordings. The subject matter here focuses on civil rights issues. The music is a mix of rock, pop, soul, blues, funk, and jazz. The accompanying interviews show Simone to be a knowledgeable and passionate speaker.

A preview of the collection can be seen on this youtube page.

John Butler


Guitarist and singer/songwriter John Butler was recently praised by Australian Environment minister Peter Garrett for his commitment to increasing public awareness about social and environmental issues (i.e.: nuclear weapons, climate change, and fighting AIDS.) He played at the Live Earth (Sydney) concert in July 2007.

For more information about John, visit his web site.

Grist, an online environmental news and commentary site, has an interview with John here.

Despite his good work, however, Butler’s methods may not appeal everyone, as illustrated by this blog and the photo below.

In November 2007, Peter Garrett, ex-lead singer for the band Midnight Oil (1973-2002) was appointed as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts in Australia. He had been an Australian Labor Party member of the House of Representatives (Kingsford Smith, New South Wales), since October 2004. Garrett also served as President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, and was inducted into the Order of Australia (Member General Division) for his contribution to environment and the music industry in 2003.

For more info, visit the Peter Garrett web site.

Read his speech from the April 2008 Sydney Song Summit here.

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This blog documents artists, past and present, who have written music about politics, as well as writings about the communication power of this music. There is a focus on current pop and folk artists from the Western world and their music, from the 1980s to the present such as Bob Geldof, Bruce Cockburn, Neil Young, Bono, Billy Bragg, The Dixie Chicks, Peter Gabriel, James McMurtry, Steve Earle and Michael Franti. Influential political musicians, as well as activists from other times, places and styles will also be discussed.