Monday, 29 April 2013

Richie Havens - Nobody Left To Crown [2008, final studio album - his 30th]

One More Day

Richie Havens’ final studio album is vintage in sound, lyrical preoccupation and the ability to take the classic songs of others and stamp his indelible mark upon them. This latter quality oozes its aural charm on Pete Townsend’s Won’t Get Fooled Again, a song so steeped in The Who’s musical iconography you wouldn’t think it possible that a version could break those signature shackles – but Havens wraps it in his inimitable vocal and strummed acoustic guitar, the lyrics sadly as apt today as when written, as are the sentiments Havens presents from others and his own pen throughout this wise reflection on a world he has documented for over 40 years,

But the world looks just the same
And history ain’t changed

Opener The Key, supported as are a number of others by a cello accompaniment, is beautiful – quite simply beautiful – and the lyrics embrace the optimism for a better world that has walked in tandem with Havens’ anger at the way we have treated ourselves and this world,

Somewhere there is a chance
To escape from tribal dance
No one breaks the common trance, of global glance
At freedom’s plate
Somewhere there are no lies
The truth and beauty still survives
And all the days of our lives
The sun rises, just to show us the way
Just between you and me

Follower Say It Isn’t So is similarly gentle as a song, and the cello again joins in with its softening as the lyrics this time are less hopeful though still tinged with the disbelief that in its expression suggests something better,

Say it isn’t so that people must bend
To this war without end
I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it
I can’t believe it, do you believe?

And then the third is Townsend’s anthemic declaration of regret and fight, encapsulating the battle Havens has sung and fought throughout his life, so sadly ended.

Fourth Standing On The Water continues the righteous ruefulness, the rhetorical questioning perhaps reflecting more sagacious resignation than revolution, but nonetheless pertinent for that genuine concern,

Why do we surround ourselves with houses and big cars
Trying to make out we got it made
When nothing really belongs to us
We’re only passing through
We’re part of a masquerade

Fifth is a lovely cover of Citizen Cope’s [Clarence Greenwood] Hurricane Water, and sixth If I is another Havens’ original with a sweet simplicity that exemplifies all that is peaceful and introspective about this album’s music. 

Sixth, title track Nobody Left To Crown, is classic Havens, the guitar strummed vigorously with those speedy oscillating rhythms, and the narrative offers its mix of hope and criticism,

What if politicians were all good guys?
Oh Lord, don’t we wish they were
We would not be so dependent
On courts of law that make us
All feel like dependents sometimes

and what stands out in this song is Havens’ mash-up [of sorts] where he segues a few satirical bars of Home On The Range into the song,

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home
Home, home on the range
Where the fear and the antidotes play
Where seldom is heard, an encouraging word
And our leaders do nothing all day

Ninth is a cover of Jackson Browne’s Lives In The Balance, and although written about American involvement in El Salvador, its focus on political corruption is still apt in the larger world-view Havens is presenting throughout this album, but also his specific focus on America itself.

Eleventh Fates sees Havens adopt a more caustic criticism with his linking of capitalism and the power-elite to slavery, and it is clear he hasn’t forsaken his life-long political/philosophical ethos,

He’s got his factories, he’s got his slaves
He’s got his prophets, he owns our cave
He has his prisons, he has his cage
He has his judges, they have our fate

This ethical protest is continued in the cover of the Peter Yarrow’s [Peter, Paul and Mary] song The Great Mandala (The Wheel of Life) which is a complex lyric, it seems to me, about punishment and justice. The album finishes on Havens’ song One More Day, a calm and poetic rumination, proffering both secular and spiritual love and peacefulness, a fitting testament to end the album as well as honour Havens’ life as a musician and person,

My love so dear as this life you are to me
Your kiss so clear as the crystals of the sea
Please save me, I have fallen here
I am lost and alone
An angel weeps, I hear him cry
A lonely prayer, a voice on high
Dry all your tears, come what may
And in the end the sun will rise
On one more day

The sun will rise on one more day

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