Reviews of Lady Liberty
January 11, 2011
GERRY SPEHAR/Lady Liberty (5 Stars)
We reviewed Gerry Spehar’s latest album, “Anger Management”, about eighteen months ago. At the time, Trump was still in his third year in the Oval Office. He’d done enough in that time to alienate millions of Americans and Gerry was one of them. “Anger Management” was an angry album and it was all about the damage Trump had done to the American people. It was also a classic example of the protest album, packed with well-crafted songs that are full of fury. It’s just as relevant now and it’s one that I keep coming back to.
The “Lady Liberty” EP is coming from a different place. There’s still some anger, but the focus has shifted; Trump himself doesn’t get a namecheck, but there are still a couple of references, one in the title track and one in the second song “Laura Dean”.
“Lady Liberty, Day One” is set in the very near future on Inauguration Day and combines the celebration of a new, hopefully more inclusive, politics in the United States with the familiar Gerry Spehar themes of immigration and the refugee experience. It’s a brief look back to darker days, but a much lengthier and more positive look forward to the escape from Trumpism. The musical setting is a complex, swirling, trippy prog arrangement in 6/8 time that emphasises the random, hallucinogenic events of the last four years. Bear in mind that this was written long before Trump showed his true colours with events in DC last week. It’s a powerful song with a powerful message; the people make the choice between cruelty and kindness.
Skipping past the second song for a moment, the EP ends with “The Immigrant Suite”, three stories of attempted flight from Mexico to the USA (two kids make it, one doesn’t). “Barrier Reef” has a Latin tinge with violin and trumpet overlaying some Eastern European touches. “Boy and Beast” has an acoustic guitar suggesting the sounds of a train while the fiddle suggests the whistle moaning heads north to meet his mother in LA; both the main characters of these songs make it across the border. “Meet Me at the Moon” is based around Latin rhythms and is partly sung in Spanish; it’s the story of a twelve-year-old daughter who doesn’t even make it out of Mexico to join her father. All three songs are powerful evocations of the complex human issues of cross-border movement.
Which brings us to “Laura Dean”. It’s much more simple than the title song, just finger-picked country acoustic and lap steel, but it’s every bit as powerful. Gerry Spehar writes very convincingly about individuals in difficult situations and “Laura Dean” is up there with his best. It tells the story of a true hero, a nurse dealing ceaselessly with dying patients while her kids’ grandma is dying at the other end of a Zoom call. This is all powerful stuff, but Gerry also contrasts it perfectly with the behaviour of Trump (un-named) and his hypocritical hijack of Easter 2020. This one will stick with me for a long, long time.
Following Trump’s election defeat, Gerry Spehar has moved on from the white-hot fury of “Anger Management” to a desire to return to the values of Emma Lazarus’s Statue of Liberty poem “The New Colossus”- ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’, which is referenced in the title song. The remaining songs on the EP contrast the human stories of the USA and its neighbours with the current upheaval to create the balance of personal and political that runs through our daily lives.
The “Lady Liberty” EP is a heartfelt piece of work that highlights the damage already done to the United States while pointing the way to a more understanding and inclusive future. It’s brave and powerful and I recommend that you listen to it.
The EP is released on Inauguration Day (Wednesday January 30th) to download and stream.
BLUES BLUES (UK)
January 8, 2021
GERRY SPEHAR/Lady Liberty EP
Set for release on Inauguration Day (20th January), Gerry Spehar’s latest release is a three track EP covering some of the topics that are hard to listen to but must be heard. It follows on from his 2018 album, Anger Management, and continues to highlight the state of US politics under their soon to be ex-President. Take the opening track Lady Liberty, Day One as an example. This is dedicated to two American icons, The Statue Of Liberty and Civil Rights activist John Lewis and it is a reminder of the promise to look after all. Sung in Spehar’s world weary vocal over a shuffling groove it is a stark message, considering all that has been going on in the past year. Spehar shows all of his storytelling skills on Laura Dean, a story of the pandemic, death, PPE and Zoom. He’s a 21st Century troubadour and “stop the machine, walk away” are some of the saddest lyrics I’ve heard in many a year. Laura Dean is a young ER Doctor and nine months pregnant who has to walk away from a patient. This may just move you to tears if you take the time to listen to the lyrics, something we don’t always do.
Immigrant Suite is an epic trilogy of real life tales starting with Barrier Reef, which is suffused with Latin guitar (Javi Ramos), fiddle (Gabe Witcher), trumpet (Erinn Bone) and is a harrowing tale of a young girl crossing the Rio Grande to search for her father in Virginia and the hope of a better life. Backing vocal is provided by Christine Spehar. Boy And Beast is the second movement and fingerpicked guitar replaces the strummed versions of before. Fiddle is still prominent. This is a young boy trying to make his way to Los Angeles to find his mother who has already been lucky to enough make the crossing successfully. Witcher’s Fiddle is superb as are Spehar’s dulcet vocal tones, which are sympathetic to the subject. Meet Me At The Moon wraps up the trio. Sung in Spanish in parts, it is punctuated by Bone’s trumpet and James Taylor style guitar phrasings. Lyrically heartrending, it is offset by the more upbeat melodies, and is a story about a young girl dreaming to reconnect with her papa in America and talking to him on the phone every day. However, she doesn’t get there after being a victim of street violence at home in Guatemala. A trilogy, in fact a full EP, that Neil Young would be proud of.
What these songs confirm is that Gerry Spehar is a marvelous storyteller in the Folk/Country tradition, taking real life events and making you listen.
THREE CHORDS AND THE TRUTH (UK)
January 20, 2021
Gerry Spehar/Lady Liberty
You will have to travel far in 2021 to find a record with greater personal satisfaction for the artist than this impromptu EP by Colorado based troubadour Gerry Spehar. Releasing LADY LIBERTY to the world on January 20th, Inauguration Day is also no coincidence, and eagle eyed fans can trace it back to track #1 on Spehar's 2018 album ANGER MANAGEMENT.
At that time, the now single term tenure of the 45th President was at its midpoint and Spehar's own anger management was successfully channeled into a good ole traditional protest album, one greeted with widespread approval by outlets whose boat is floated by such records. The opening track on that album was rather ironically titled 'Thank You Donald', perhaps suggesting that the protest song market was about to receive a stimulus. Now on the date that the 46th President is sworn in, Spehar sparks a different tone on his latest record while still holding onto the theme of protest, although with a desire that things will change in the post-Trump world.
In a quirky method of presentation, the five songs comprising this EP are packaged in two stand-alone tracks and a further three more brought together under the banner 'Immigrant Suite'. This latter trio appear on the download both as a merged effort and on their own to confuse unaware ears on a first uninformed spin. One of these tracks - 'Barrier Reef' also appeared on the previous album, but the context is different this time. What is not in doubt is the cultured status of Spehar to cultivate a powerful piece and succinctly make his point in the standard sub-five minute window of a popular song.
You sometimes get the impression that protest music is the sole domain of one person and a guitar, but LADY LIBERTY sees a much wider instrumental landscape used with steel, fiddle, electric guitar and even trumpet featuring across the five tracks. The overall feel is of a deeper production that doesn't overpower the message.
The message focuses on three specific areas - a return to pre-2016 American values on 'Lady Liberty, Day One'; the true heroes of the pandemic response on 'Laura Dean' and the movement of people across its southern borders in the 'Immigrant Suite' trilogy. What links all three is Spehar's no doubt hope that at least the narrative will change on all three from January 20th onwards.
LADY LIBERTY is certainly a record for a moment in time. Additionally it sparked a revived interest in an earlier album, and that is further kudos to Gerry Spehar, a songwriter of increasing importance.
FATEA MAGAZINE (UK)
January 20, 2021
Gerry Spehar/Lady Liberty
Released as a digital download, this serves as a bookend to the Colorado troubadour's 2018 protest album Anger Management, released timely to coincide with Joe Biden's inauguration. Featuring members of I See Hawks In L.A., Double Naught Spy Car and Bonedaddys as the studio band, it opens with 'Lady Liberty, Day One', evocative of Bruce Cockburn in its groove and heady guitar work and a song of hope for light after the darkness of the Trump nightmare, dedicated to Civil Rights campaigner John Lewis as well as the men and women who stood strong to support America's democracy as he reiterates the inscription on the Statue of Liberty offering refuge to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free.
Turning to the current pandemic, channeling Kris Kristofferson and accompanied by acoustic guitar and lap steel, 'Laura Dean' is dedicated to all those on the frontline and tells the story of a young nine-months pregnant ER doctor agonizing in tending to her dying mother ("Gets the kids on Zoom to say goodbye before their Grandma's gone") and having to walk away from patient care as Covid inundates her hospital and Trump "fights with the press, points his finger, beats his chest".
Depending on how you look at it, there's either three or six tracks, the third being the twelve minute 'Immigrant Suite' which can either be listened to in its entirety or its three constituent parts, each of which tells a fact-based story about a journey to the Mexico/US border. Opening with Spanish guitar, the first is 'Barrier Reef', a minor key ballad about a young girl's crossing the Rio Grande alone and riding a train called the Beast to reach her father in Virginia, Christine Spehar on harmonies with trumpet and fiddle from Erinn Bone and Gabe Witcher, respectively.
Driven by urgent fingerpicking and featuring fiddle solo, 'Boy and Beast documents the young Enrique as he hops a boxcar on the same train, heading north to his mother in Los Angeles. Both have happy resolutions, but that's not the case with the final track, 'Meet Me at The Moon', a James Taylor style fingerpicked ballad with trumpet flourishes as, part in Spanish, a father now working in America recalls how, every day, his young Guatemalan daughter would sing over the phone to him, dreaming of the day she will join him, only to fall victim to gang wars before she gets the chance.
Mingling hope and despair, joy and sadness, it's a short but potent herald to what has to be a new beginning when that torch once again shines proud and bright.
MAXIMUM VOLUME MUSIC (UK)
January 23, 2021
Gerry Spehar/Lady Liberty (Rating 9/10)
I have always been a fan of Gerry Spehar. Well, I say “always”, what I mean is I reviewed his debut record (just 30 years in the making) and its superb follow up.
It’s that follow up, the wonderful “Anger Management” that most resonates here, too. That was a damning excoriation of Trump and the “post-truth” world.
“Lady Liberty” – its no coincidence that it comes out just as the orange liar is clearing his fat ass out of the White House after inciting terrorism and displaying a lack of maturity that would have got my two year old niece a telling off for being silly – could be seen as the companion piece, I suppose, but there is so much to say that it is anything but triumphalist.
“Lady Liberty, Day One” has a sort of laid back California edge (it is co-Produced by Paul Lacques from I See Hawks In LA, and it has that feel) but it’s the acerbic edge to the lyrics, as it partly mourns what has become of the nation, and partly looks forward to its future, that really hit home.
And it’s those words that make it such a brave record. From its knowing nod to the Stones in the opener, throughout, it is clearly a record that has been poured over and crafted.
“Laura Dean” is beautiful and poignant at the same time. Contrasting the experience of a young ER Doctor who has to turn the life support machines off, with the bellicose words of the bag of crap who lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Fragile and heartbreaking, it is superbly played too (there is a cast list of some fine, fine musicians here, not least the fiddle of Gabe Witcher).
He needs a mention too, because of the astonishing work he does on “Barrier Reef”, the first part of the “Immigrant Suite”, a 12 minute, three part epic, full of Latin flavors and dealing with the disparate tales of a trio of kids trying to escape Central America for a better life.
The haunting harmonies of Christine Spehar color “Barrier Reef”, while the middle section “Boy And The Beast” has a real folk, dirt road, almost Woody Guthrie flavor, which contrasts with the last one, “Meet Me At The Moon”, which is so full of emotion it cannot be resisted.
From the great tradition of singer songwriters who want to chronicle the world around them, Gerry Spehar does more here, across these 20 minutes or so, than many manage in a career.
On the rare occasions I meet Americans (living in the middle of England they don’t often appear) I am always struck by how friendly and open they are, how they contrast with the America you see on the news.
Here’s another of the good guys, doing something magnificent.
THE SPIRIT OF PROGRESSIVE ROCK (UK)
ROOTS IN FEBRUARY
January 30, 2021
Gerry Spehar/Lady Liberty
A bunch of artists support this EP: Joe Berardi (drums and percussion), Paul Lacques (electric guitars), Rick Moors, Marc Doten (bass) alongside Gerry (acoustic) with other collaborations: co-producer Paul Lacques on lap steel, and at engineer Mitch Zelezny’s studio, Javi Ramos and Gerry on acoustic guitars, Erinn Bone on trumpet and Christine Spehar on vocals. Finally Gabe Witcher on fiddle.
The EP completes the mission of his 2018 protest album Anger Management. In the tradition of Woody Guthrie, the album took direct aim at Donald Trump and his apologists, focusing poignantly and sharply on issues of war, immigration and economic and social injustice that plague the country. Lady Liberty celebrates the triumph of American democracy over its greatest challenge in our lifetime, and of hope over hate. It is a rich coming together of influences – from John Prine inspired folk to anthemic rock. The title song, ‘Lady Liberty, Day One’, is an anthem dedicated to two American icons: the Statue of Liberty and John Lewis, a giant of Civil Rights. ‘Laura Dean’ is based on the real-life trauma of the healthcare workers and their daily pandemic risk. Musically, it is in the acoustic folk tradition of John Prine, who died of COVID 19. The three song ‘Immigrant Suite’ is based on the real-life stories of three Central American kids seeking the promise of America, but experiencing family loss and re-connection. Eclectic.
February 8, 2021
Gerry Spehar/Lady Liberty (Rating 8/10)
This EP may only contain six songs but, at 33 minutes, it is as long as many full-length albums thanks chiefly to the 12 minute Immigrant Suite. This track based on the real-life stories of three Central American kids in search of the America dream. Actually, the EP really has only five tunes since the three parts of this suite also appear as separate tracks.
Gerry Spehar is from an old Colorado pioneer family and was an archetype troubadour in the 1960s. He gave up performing to focus on a better-paid day job as a banker in L.A. and to raise a family.
Spehar returned to music making as a serious venture after a break of around three decades. As a result, his songs reflect the voice of experience rather than the thoughts of some starry-eyed drifter.
On this record he addresses weighty issues of war, immigration and economic and social injustice yet also celebrates Biden's victory over Trump. Co-produced by Spehar and Paul Lacques (I See Hawks In L.A.), he is backed by instrumentalists Joe Berardi, Marc Doten and Rick Moors. There are also contributions from fiddler Gabe Witcher, guitarist Javi Ramos, trumpeter Erinn Bone and vocalist Christine Spehar.
The opening track, Lady Liberty, Day One, is a hymn to freedom and dedicated to two American icons: the "golden flame" of the Statue of Liberty and John Lewis, a giant of Civil Rights. Spehar sings of the inauguration of a new president "marking a move from hope to hate."
Laura Dean is a highly topical tune based on the real-life trauma of the healthcare workers who daily risk their lives in the current Pandemic.
In Barrier Reef a young girl struggles to reconnect with her father in Virginia. Not only is it the first part of Immigrant Suite, but the song also appeared on his previous album 'Anger Management'. Here it is a kind of companion piece to Boy and Beast, which recounts a 12-year-old boy's train ride north to find his mother in Los Angeles.
The triptych of immigrant experiences is concluded with Meet Me at the Moon which is about a grieving farm laborer who laments the death of his daughter in Guatemala.
Spehar's voice is grizzled but the sentiments are never grizzly. Humanity and community are the touchstones. Liberty and justice for all" is the slogan that appears prominently on the EP cover and the tunes are timely reminders of the need for both in these dark times.
AMERICANA UK (UK)
February 9, 2021
Gerry Spehar/Lady Liberty (Rating 8/10)
Insightful lyrics highlight dark stories that sit alongside a dose of hopefulness for the future.
Continuing the message from his 2018 protest album ‘Anger Management’, folk-country troubadour Gerry Spehar picked an apt day indeed to release his latest EP ‘Lady Liberty’: 20th January 2021, also known as Presidential Inauguration Day, which will be etched into the minds of many forever as the day America again reclaimed the crown of democracy, ridding itself of Donald Trump and putting Joe Biden in his place.
“As we mark this trip around the sun / As day two is conceived on this day one / As we swear and inaugurate / As we mark this move to hope from hate,” sings Spehar, joyous that the change in government means the promise of sanctuary for those fleeing oppression will soon again be reinstated. “Give me your tired, your poor / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore / Your huddled masses yearning to be free,” he continues on the chorus of the groove heavy opener with its hints of psychedelia.
‘Laura Dean’ is a contemplative acoustic track that Spehar has dedicated to the brave people out there fighting the pandemic day in and day out (“In a plastic mask and PPE through tears she cannot see / Laura Dean moves in a dream to the beep of a machine / She talks to her Creator, asking Him to shine a light / Sits down, takes her hand and says goodnight”). It’s a song also in memory of those who we have lost to Covid-19 over the past year, which is interesting in that it’s the kind of song that would fit entirely comfortably within the back catalogue of the late John Prine.
While this ostensibly looks to be a six-track EP, when you look closer you’ll discover that it isn’t quite so simple: track three, entitled ‘Immigrant Suite’ is a 12-minute long epic, but it can also be broken down into three more manageable chunks by instead listening to (or along with) tracks four, five, and six.
The acoustic ballad ‘Barrier Reef’ is the first of those three tracks, telling the story of a young girl’s fraught solo Rio Grande crossing in a desperate attempt to find her father in Virginia; the harmonies provided here by Christine Spehar work beautifully, adding even more depth to an already weighty song. ‘Boy and Beast’ follows, and it’s another acoustic ballad – heavy on the fingerpicking this time – with more lush harmonies and another urgent story to tell: young Enrique boards a train (known as the Beast) to meet his mother in the promised land that is Los Angeles (“He holds a scrap of paper with his Mama’s phone / In the state of Los Angeles where he hopes this beast is going / He tears it up and keeps her number in his head / Where no one can find it and nobody’s dead”).
The final track of the EP – and of the ‘Immigrant Suite’ – is ‘Meet Me at the Moon’. The bright sound of a trumpet declares itself before we move into an acoustic ballad, but with a slight difference: a Spanish chorus that sits alongside music that remains upbeat despite the sometimes bleak nature of the lyrics (“She was beautiful, twelve years old / They wouldn’t leave her alone / We were planning to send her up north to me / She never made it home”).
While much of this project sees Spehar look back and commemorate recent trauma and losses, there is a hope there too. “Meet me at the moon tonight,” he tells us on the final line, an encapsulation of the spirit of a brighter tomorrow in this valuable project – and it’s one that might just aid us in the dark fight still ahead.