DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The Virginia-born, Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Carsie Blanton has written and recorded a number of new songs she's variously described as protest songs and anti-fascist anthems. Rock critic Ken Tucker says the songs on her new album, called "Love & Rage," may be protest music, but it doesn't sound the way we usually think protest music sounds, which makes it all the more interesting.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE GOOD")
CARSIE BLANTON: (Singing) Jesus Christ was a handsome man. He had nothing to hide. He said, give bread to the hungry. Bring the homeless inside. Jesus Christ was a dangerous man. That's the way that he died - saying, be good to the people you love, and love everybody alive. Be good to the people. Be good to the people.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Carsie Blanton has been spending her pandemic time making music within the pod of her band - two other guys plus a mostly by-remote producer. She's been going to social justice demonstrations then back home to make more music. She's been thinking about why people aren't more kind to each other and making still more music.
"Be Good" is the most pervasive notion on her new album "Love & Rage," and it's the title of the song that began this review. The album's black-and-white artwork features pictures taken by photographer Isaac Scott at Philadelphia Black Lives Matter protests. And one of Blanton's best new songs is the protest-inspired "Down In The Streets," which does not sound like what we usually think protest music sounds like.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOWN IN THE STREETS")
BLANTON: (Singing) Mama, it's a disaster, going faster and faster. And all of my heroes turning out to be bastards. Ain't no peace to be found in this company town 'cause the house will keep winning till we burn the house down. So with my (ph) my friends in the streets tonight, we'll go singing. All my friends who are down and out, we're gonna fight. All our friends in the up above, with all our rage and all our love, adding fuel to the fire down in the streets tonight. Well, they call it a riot...
TUCKER: As music, "Down In The Streets" owes as much to Lesley Gore's 1963 hit "Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows" as it does Public Enemy's "Fight The Power." And I don't mean that as a slight. "Down In The Streets" is one beautiful, militant anthem.
Blanton said in a recent interview that she wrote it in the summer of protests in 2020. And she makes this observation - (reading) in trying to get political messages into songs, I try to make the hook the thing that drives everything else. So it has to have the right energy or nobody cares to listen to the message.
In other words, she wants her protest to contain equal parts of her album title, "Love & Rage."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "S*** LIST")
BLANTON: (Singing) You come in at the top of my [expletive] list, even though you look a little punk rock. You talk real loud, but you're totally witless. Think we had enough of hearing you talk. So your life ain't the dream that you thought it would be. So you cry and you scream like a cat in a tree now. You want a medal just for being a white boy. That ain't the way we do it no more. That ain't the way we do it no more. That ain't the way we do it no more. You got away with that [expletive] before. That ain't the way we gonna do it no more now.
TUCKER: When I first heard that song, it reminded me of early British punk rock, the poppy kind by Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric and Rachel Sweet. Then I looked at the credits and saw that the guest drummer on the track is Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello's band The Attractions, and I knew my ears were in the right place. Carsie Blanton is one of those hard-headed, open-hearted protesters who can make revolution sound desirable to your body, even if your mind wants to resist.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTY AT THE END OF THE WORLD")
BLANTON: (Singing) It's hard to tell, but here's a story. We're going out in a blaze of glory. It's too late now to fix this mess. So honey, put on that party dress. Oh, there's a party at the end of the world. Let's go to the party at the end of the world. We'll dance with the beautiful girls. Our last chance, the party at the end of the world. There's a party at the end...
TUCKER: "Love & Rage" is Blanton's seventh album, and its production offers the best showcase yet for her voice, a wonderfully pliable instrument. Her phrasing can make you smile during even the most serious lyric. The album is not all current events rabble rousing. It makes time for the calm beauty of lovely soul ballads such as "Ain't No Sin."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T NO SIN")
BLANTON: (Singing) Well, my mama said that I ought to be committed. And my daddy said that I ought to go to church. And the preacher said that I ought be repentant till the day they lay me down in the dirt. But when I go and I get to heaven - heaven - well, I know that I'm gonna get in - heaven - 'cause I'm just the way that the good lord made me. And it might be crazy, but it ain't no sin. No, it ain't no sin.
TUCKER: Blanton's previous album two years ago was called "Buck Up," and it's a title that could also apply here. She's all for acknowledging our current problems, the various daunting fixes we're in, but she's also for shaking off despair, finding solutions and doing the hard work of finding hope.
DAVIES: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviewed "Love & Rage," Carsie Blanton's new album coming out this week.
On tomorrow's show, Stephen Colbert talks about how the Trump administration, the pandemic and now the Biden administration have changed his comedy, his show and his life. His previous appearance on our show was just before Trump was elected. We'll pick it up from there.
(SOUNDBITE OF JON BATISTE'S "COLLARD GREENS AND CORNBREAD STRUT")
DAVIES: Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
(SOUNDBITE OF JON BATISTE'S "COLLARD GREENS AND CORNBREAD STRUT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.