Reviews of Anger Management
Ron Trembath APRIL 10, 2018
GERRY SPEHAR/Anger Management
This is a perfect album with a perfect message, and most importantly, it is an absolute joy to listen to!
First and foremost, I have to be honest when I say that I was sadly uninformed when it came to the genius of the great Gerry Spehar … until now. Now, I am slightly informed, and feel as though I need to know so damn much more. This is because of the idea that if his amazing record Anger Management is any indication of what this man has been doing throughout his career, then I have definitely been missing out over the years. I now consider myself a HUGE fan of Gerry, based on the contents of the album I am here to talk to you all about today.
Anger Management is the modern equivalent to all of those old and beautiful Woody Guthrie-‐esque protest songs that are held dearly in the annals of history. And while those old folk songs are definitely special for very good reasons, Gerry Spehar has created something uniquely different, and actually a bit more impressive in my own opinion. Gerry blends classic old timey folk songs with a brilliant seasoning of blues and rock & roll, and even a bit of a country ballad feel at times, that makes for an album that is not only important to our current political climate, but also sounds absolutely amazing! While I do appreciate a good protest song for its basic nature, it always has more of an impact when there is immense talent involved. And Spehar is definitely an extremely talented singer and musician, as well as a mesmerizing songwriter.
Whether it is a slow paced and gut-‐wrenching ballad like “A Soldier’s Spiritual”, the high-‐ speed satirical folk ditty “Thank You Donald”, the 90’s alternative-‐like cut “Except For the Bomb”, or the seriously funky, blues-‐driven “Bitch Heaven”, I am here to tell you that Gerry Spehar’s Anger Management is without a doubt one of the best albums you are going to hear in 2018. And even more so, this music is absolutely timeless and should be the catalyst for people to listen to 100 years in the future to truly understand what these days were like. This is a perfect album with a perfect message, and most importantly, it is an absolute joy to listen to!
KEYS AND CHORDS (BELGIUM)
Lambert Smits April 18, 2018
GERRY SPEHAR/Anger Management (5 stars)
Gerry Spehar is the Woody Guthrie of this time. In a sublime way, in catchy songs, he denounces the contemporary political and social situations. Highly recommended!
Although the world still may not be as it should be, there are few contemporary musical artists who deal with this. Decades ago there were the so-‐called “protest singers” who denounced social problems, but unfortunately that rarely happens nowadays. It is therefore encouraging when an album like Anger Management by Gerry Spehar lands in your mailbox. Gerry Spehar is the Woody Guthrie of this time. After thirty years in which a “day job” was his main focus, Gerry plunged back into music and, with the support of a number of impressive musicians, recorded a very beautiful album. The opener Thank You Donald immediately takes a stand against the current American president and a money-‐based society. From a family of miners, Gerry knows all too well how it feels to come to America as an immigrant to work in the coalmines, which he expresses beautifully in Son Of An Immigrant. In A Soldier’s Spiritual he exposes the battle that war veterans still have years later against post-‐war syndrome. The content of Pearl Harbor needs no further explanation, and how Woody Guthrie wipes the floor with Trump is without a doubt sublime and the subject of Bitch Heaven. Trump also appears on stage in the finale What Would Jesus Do?.
In short, Anger Management is an album where the lyrics demand attention, as it should be. The fact that Gerry Spehar is not aggressive and threatening, but instead resorts to catchy folk, Americana, country and blues-‐tinged melodies, proves he is a true professional. Anger Management is well worth discovering!
MICHAEL’S DOHERTY’S MUSIC BLOG (USA)
Michael Doherty April 25, 2018
GERRY SPEHAR/Anger Management
Okay, some folks have suggested that I could use a little anger management myself these days. Just the other day I was kicked off of Twitter (again) for saying that I’d love to see Donald Trump buried up to his neck in dirt and for hundreds of fire ants to cover his hideous head. But hell, who wouldn’t want to see that? And fuck you, Twitter, for not having a sense of humor, and for letting Donald Trump say whatever he wants but for not letting us respond in kind. Anyway, while I think I will avoid actual anger management and therapy (at least for now), I believe I’m getting even better help from Gerry Spehar’s new album, Anger Management. There are some damned good songs on
this disc. All of the tracks are originals, written or co-‐written by Gerry Spehar. The album is dedicated to Woody Guthrie, and this music works in the same vein that much of Guthrie’s music did (or, rather, does), addressing social and political troubles (and, boy, do we have a lot of those these days). Plus, Gerry Spehar has got some of my favorite people backing him on this album, including Paul Lacques and Paul Marshall of I See Hawks In L.A. In fact, Paul Lacques co-‐produced the album with Gerry Spehar. There are several other excellent musicians joining him on various tracks. I think this album is going to speak strongly to a lot of folks. It’s an album a lot of us need now.
Anger Management is an album that I love right from its very start, because it starts with a song against that delusional incestuous cretin Donald Trump, Thank you Donald. It doesn’t have an angry vibe, however; rather, it has a playful sound, with a nice rhythm and also a banjo, the sound of which almost always makes me happy (that’s John David on banjo). “Now, they tell me love trumps hate, and maybe that’s true at the Pearly Gate/But there ain’t much love down here, just a whole lotta hate and fear.” And it is a call to action, a call to vote. “Well, I ain’t gonna quit; I gotta vote a little bit.” And Brantley Kearns, another of my favorite musicians, plays fiddle on this track, so there’s that. That’s followed by Son Of An Immigrant, which has a more serious tone, and carries a reminder that we are all the descendants of immigrants (something that it seems a screwed up portion of the population is choosing to ignore). “I’m the son of an immigrant and he’s my brother/Why’s it so hard to love one another?”
Anger Management, the album’s title track, had me from its first line, “Don’t tell me I’m angry, that makes me mad,” which had me laughing aloud (and this on a day when I was getting furious with the Trump regime again). My girlfriend and I were having a conversation, in which we were trying to figure out just what is the correct amount of anger to have these days. I mean, it seems ridiculous to not be angry. How can you not be angry when these bastards are trying to destroy not just the country, but the whole world? On the other hand, I don’t want my anger to get the best of me. I want to still be able to function. You know? There is a line, “My anger wants to pick a fight.” And that’s what worries me. Fortunately, I’ve never once run into anyone with a “Make America Great Again” cap. But if I did? I can’t swear that I would be able to walk away without, at the very least, ripping that hat off and tossing it into the street. It’s not a bad thing to be angry at fascists. Marc Doten and Joe Berardi of Double Naught Spy Car play on this track. It was written by Gerry Spehar, Stephanie Spehar and Christine Spehar.
A Soldier’s Spiritual is more in the folk realm, an effective and moving number. “I am a veteran, but I am not free/I’m still doing battle each night in my dreams.” You don’t have to be a veteran to be able to relate to this line: “I have no pension and I’m growing old.” A Soldier’s Spiritual was written by Gerry Spehar, Susan Spehar and Bobby Allison. Carnival has a very different sound and vibe -‐ that of a demented twisted carnival, earlier run by Lyndon Johnson and now by a mendacious bully. “We got ourselves a carnival, boys, and that man in the ring/Barking at the clowns is just our latest greatest king.” I absolutely love this song; it is playful and fun and has plenty to say. Marc Doten
plays calliope on this track.
That’s followed by Bitch Heaven, which has a cool back porch folk sound and is a song about Fred Trump, Donald’s despicable father. The last line of Steve Poltz’s fantastic “Hey God, I’ll Trade You Donald Trump For Leonard Cohen” is “What do you say, God, Donald Trump for Woody Guthrie?” There was an actual connection between Woody Guthrie and Donald Trump’s father, as Guthrie had rented an apartment from the racist, and subsequently wrote a song about him, referring to Fred Trump as “Old Man Trump.” Gerry Spehar puts both Trump and Guthrie in this song, seeing how they fare in the afterlife. “Now, Old Man Trump had money and Woody had song/And which one do you think you get to take along.” This song makes reference to This Land Is Your Land, the song that I believe is actually our national anthem (or, at least, should be), ending with the line, “Yeah, this land was made for you and me, not old Trump.” Amen. Bitch Heaven was written by Gerry Spehar and Lindsey Smith. John David plays guitar on this track.
Perhaps the album’s most intriguing song is Barrier Reef, about a young immigrant making the dangerous crossing. The story is moving, of course, but it is also the song’s tone which is so effective, using certain instruments in an unusual way, particularly the horn and fiddle – Gabe Witcher plays fiddle on this track, and Erinn Bone is on horn. And it features some beautiful backing vocals by Christine Spehar and Gerry Spehar. That’s followed by a very short track that is not listed on the back of the CD, Greed Prelude, which leads directly into Greed. I dig the bass line to “Greed.” This one also features Erinn Bone on horn, as well as Tommy Jordan on horn.
Freedom To Grab makes a logical argument, referring to that recording of Donald Trump and Billy Bush in which Donald Trump bragged about grabbing women by the pussy. I still, in my darkest moments, believe that any woman who voted for Donald Trump should have her pussy grabbed by strangers since by voting for him they were saying that behavior was okay. (Seriously, how did any woman vote for this guy? I don’t get it.) In this song, however, it goes both ways. And why not? “See, I grab you and you grab me, and we’re both happy as we can be.” It’s delivered in a playful manner, which I appreciate. I also appreciate that the song has a nice dart aimed at Bill O’Reilly (“Don’t get uptight, it’s the Bill O’Reilly of Rights, baby”). And the backing vocalists at the end singing “It’s presidential” are hilarious. The album then concludes with What Would Jesus Do, a song about the Republicans’ version of Jesus. Another thing that I can’t wrap my head around is how hypocritical the so-‐called religious people in this country are these days, supporting Donald Trump, a man who has been married three times and has cheated on his wives, and is not the least bit spiritual. “Would Jesus vote for Trump?” Gerry asks in this song. Republicans would answer, “Yes.”
MAXIMUM VOLUME MUSIC (UK)
Andy Thorley May 14, 2018
Gerry Spehar/Anger Management (Rating 8/10)
“Anger Management” proves one thing: the debut album was no fluke. Anyone, probably, could write one album in thirty years and make it great. Only the truly gifted can follow it up like this.
In the spring of last year I reviewed the debut album by Gerry Spehar. An interesting backstory, it was a debut more than 30 years in the making. For “Anger Management” to emerge so soon after might, on the face of it, seem like he’s making up for lost time (and indeed maybe he is) but rather more it appears this was an album Spehar simply had to make.
The first track, “Thank You Donald” probably explains it better than anything. “that seat went red, and the whole damn country bled” he sings. And pretty much everything here needs to be seen through the prism of that moment back in 2016 when America lost its collective mind (and I am speaking here as an Englishman who believes we have one of the most evil Prime Minister’s in our history currently in Number 10 Downing St, just to be clear).
“…Management” is – rather like the wonderful Keegan McInroe record I reviewed back in January – a good old-‐fashioned protest song, and much of it deals with the clown in the White House, but like the debut record “I Hold Gravity” it does it with such skill that even if you are one of those people who “doesn’t do” politics, then you might still find much to treasure.
And like last year’s collection, it winds its way around as many musical styles as you can imagine. From the bluegrass of “…Donald”, to the bluesy “Son Of An Immigrant” to the slide guitar drenched title track (“don’t tell me I’m angry, that makes me mad” is a brilliant line, as is his thought later on, “turn off the TV, we ain’t slaves you and me”) is only a journey of around 10 minutes, but it does exemplify how varied Spehar’s songs are, as well as how talented this band he’s assembled is.
“A Soldiers Spiritual” is dustbowl folk of the highest order, and even if the theme is tried and tested, it is still worthy of Woody Guthrie himself. Indeed, it is interesting too, just how many fresh ways that Spehar finds of looking at subjects that are familiar. On “Pearl Harbor” he echoes the spirit of Mark Knopfler’s later work to discuss what we learn from history, while “Carnival” has a touch of vaudeville about to produce something genuinely unsettling.
“Bitch Heaven” is the tale of a real-‐life meeting between Woody Guthrie and Trump’s dad, and the classic blues strum relates to the present day to create something special,
and there is nothing in music, perhaps as evocative as Lap Steel and “Except For The Bomb” reinforces that. There is, though, a hint of Drive By Truckers in the guitar work to go with it, while the Latin touches of “Barrier Reef” tell a tale that wouldn’t have gone amiss on Springsteen’s “Devils And Dust”.
It is the last three, however, that underline how superb Gerry Spehar is. “Greed” is full of jazzy intent, the soul infused “Freedom To Grab” is covered in horn and dripping in irony as it deals with the sexual abuse scandals that have engulfed the likes of Cosby and Weinstein – and it is actually funny too in a way that few songs are.
The last one, is perhaps the best and most powerful. “What Would Jesus Do?” is just about as vicious a condemnation of American capitalism as you will find: “Jesus preached the filthy rich shall inherit the whole earth, said they deserved to own it all by accident of birth”. A stripped down, acoustic song, comparisons with Dylan are surely not far away.
Whether you agree with his politics or not – and I assume you will understand that he has a like-‐minded soul in this reviewer? – Gerry Spehar is a fine singer/songwriter. Able to be thought provoking, highly skilled, but never self-‐indulgent, “Anger Management” proves one thing: the debut album was no fluke. Anyone, probably, could write one album in thirty years and make it great. Only the truly gifted can follow it up like this.
Dani Heyvaert May 18, 2018
Gerry Spehar/Anger Management
Exactly a year ago I had the immense pleasure of shining my light on I Hold Gravity, the comeback album, after a thirty-‐year absence, by Gerry Spehar of Grand Junction, Colorado, and I was, to say the least, rather enthusiastic about it. Today there is already a successor, and it came so fast for good reasons: Gerry lost his wife while finishing the previous record and a guy was elected president of the States whom we all thought would not be, and now, after a year and a half of his presidency, we have taste of what he’s cooking. Both events were pivotal for Gerry and he crept to his pen to come up with a dozen songs for another record, on which he tries to come to terms with his anger and to convey the message that we are all in it together on this planet, whatever our differences.
The album is dedicated to Woody Guthrie and to his deceased wife Susan: the first, because he gave voice to those who would otherwise not be heard, the second, because she loved and supported him for a lifetime. That may sound a little corny, but you only have to listen to this powerful record once to see its truth. As with the previous record, his friends in I See Hawks in LA helped out, along with other top players such as Rick
Shea and Brantley Kearns, channeling Gerry's tormented anger. From the opener Thank You Donald it works well: In a very fine Prine-‐like way, Gerry thanks the orange-‐haired nitwit in the White House because who he is and what he stands for gives meaning to the lives of people like Gerry, who need to stay alive if only to send out a sincere “fuck you" at regular intervals.
It is not the only song that deals with Humpty Trumpty: Bitch Heaven tells the true story of Woody's encounter with the Unmentionable’s father. Freedom to Grab describes in true Randy Newman fashion the norm of "respecting women" in certain circles. The closer What Would Jesus Do? is in my opinion the most on-‐point song of the whole album, taking on the unworldly religious delusions some suffer and the drunken actions of man made plausible, to some anyway, by pouring a pseudo-‐religious sauce over them. Stark lyrics that, accompanied by only an acoustic guitar, become a very powerful song.
And so far I’ve only discussed songs that directly address the Golden Fool, which is an injustice to other beautiful songs like Son of an Immigrant, whose problem is obvious, or Pearl Harbor. A former president is also skewered: Lyndon Johnson in Carnival. And let’s guess what Except for the Bomb is about ...
So this is, in summary, an old-‐fashioned but contemporary protest record, wrapped in catchy Americana and floating on lyrics of a rare high quality. Listen to this album just before and immediately after The Prodigal Son by Ry Cooder and you are rejuvenated: there is still hope for the U.S. of A.!
Allan McKay May 20, 2018
Gerry Spehar/Anger Management (5 Stars)
OK, I’ll give you this one for free because you’ll never work it out from listening to the album. I don’t think Gerry Spehar likes Donald Trump very much. I’ve heard a few American albums this year that have railed against the state of affairs in America generally and POTUS in particular, but none that have so consistently sustained the attack across a whole album of thirteen songs or, more accurately, twelve songs and a
prelude. Gerry’s solo album last year, “I Hold Gravity”, hinted at the power and breadth of “Anger Management” but the actuality is so much more brutal and brilliant.
The album is crammed with compassion, anger, pacifism and scathing attacks on the hypocrisy espoused by America’s current elected elite; 2018 is the year that the protest album finally resurfaced and the timing is perfect.
The album opens with the skewed logic of “Thank You Donald”, set in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election victory, where a suicidal impulse is overturned by a desire to save family and friends from the impending Trumpquake. It’s set against a traditional string band arrangement featuring banjo and fiddle that creates a comfortable American feel the remainder of the album systematically demolishes.
The arrangements on the album cover a wide variety of musical styles from a wide variety of countries, underlining the impact that outside influences, and immigration, have had on American popular music and society. The impact is underlined in the album’s second song “Son of an Immigrant”, where the occupation of the central character (a policeman) isn’t revealed until more than halfway through the song. The central message of the song is that almost all Americans are immigrants; it just depends how far back you go.
The album seethes with anger at the ills of modern America, the bitter lyrics underpinned by some incredible musical settings. “Carnival” is a perfect example, equating Trump with Lyndon Baines Johnson against a musical setting that evokes cabaret arrangements from 1930s Germany with sour horn fills and wah-‐wah guitar. It’s a perfect combination, all of the elements emphasizing the madness of the present-‐day USA; laughing at the freak-‐show as a distraction from the state of the nation. It’s all perfectly summed up by the advice; ‘just keep on sayin’ the same damn thing and don’t fuck it up.’
“Bitch Heaven” is beautifully constructed, contrasting Trump with Woody Guthrie via Trump senior and his property development Beach Haven. Not only does Gerry stand the president nose-‐to-‐nose with an almost unimpeachable American musical icon, he also manages to morph the song into the Woody classic “This Land is Your Land”; it’s powerful stuff. And don’t forget the powerful, sarcastic closer “What Would Jesus Do?”, pointing the finger at the double standards and hypocrisy currently infesting Trumpton. In another penetrating insight, the title song nails the distraction technique of medicalising a perfectly natural reaction to events in today’s America.
I’d like you to do two things for me. Listen to this album on this link, and then buy a copy here. We all need to encourage people like Gerry Spehar to create masterpieces like this.
“Anger Management” is released in the UK on Friday 25 May.