If their debut album Magpie Parables is any indication, Independence 76 is an Americana rock band out of Oklahoma with something to say, and they’re going to say it loud and clear. This is a band in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, a band that believes that guitars are weapons in the fight for justice. Their songs are politically charged missiles speaking truth to power. Their politics may not suit everyone, but I doubt they would give a damn. Protest is in their bones. Independence 76 is a band with a passion.
Magpie Parables tells what the composer/vocalist, who goes under the pseudonym g, Eddison calls the quasi-autobiographical story of the disillusion of a Defense Department bureaucrat and his “vision quest. . .buying bombs and searching for truth in a post-9/11 America.”
In the bio on the band’s website, he describes himself sitting in a Boston hotel room on his thirtieth birthday having negotiated contracts “to support American bombers, feeling like a pawn in an endless war on terror.” He broods over the thousands of casualties who become crystallized for him in the loss of his hero football player Pat Tillman, who volunteered to fight for his county and didn’t make it to thirty. He lies down and reads an article about Tillman’s death and the military cover-up. “In the split second,” Eddison says describing an almost mystical experience, “I could feel the spirit of Pat Tillman enter my limbic system.”
“The Epic of Pat Tillman and i,” the song which grew out of his experience opens with a bleak version of “Amazing Grace” on a grinding guitar leading into a description of the Tillman debacle and its ultimate lesson: “You can’t fight friendly fire/when you’re sitting on the wrong side of the fence.” “Change,” he tells us, “comes from within. Independence from all, for all.” And the song’s last words are “Independence 76.” It is a prophecy. The band itself is what will get you the right side of the fence. Protest from within will get you on the right side.
Eddison points to the radical historian Howard Zinn who said “in a world of victims and executioners, it’s the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.” Shortly before the historian died Eddison sent Zinn a copy of his “Eminent Domain (Side A),” a screed against the misuse of government power. To my pleasant surprise,” he responded and called it “admirably imaginable, politically provocative.” Fortunately, it is also musically exciting.
After all they are not writing essays or making political speeches, they are making music. Whether they’re singing about the decay of social values illustrated in a “California cocaine queen’s” crotch shot or self immolating martyr for peace, they are making music. They may be journeying through the darkness of the mind of drug addled murderer, but whatever else they are doing, they are always making music. It isn’t always pretty, but sometimes pretty can be overrated. What it is is raw with emotional intensity.
Eddison has the kind of voice that put the root in roots. When he opens his mouth on the album’s very first song, “Sundance Squares,” you know you’re hearing the real thing. There is something very traditional about his sound. I have to admit for a minute, I thought I was listening to “The City of New Orleans,” but it is only a faint echo in a song about the decision to find a new way to live. It is a nice introduction to the sixteen songs on the album. It’s not all politics. There are a couple of slightly askew break up songs—”12 June” and “Mending”—and a tender plaint of a father leaving his child to end the album, “Magpie.” Happy is not on this album’s agenda.
Besides Eddison, the band includes Nathan Eicher on bass and Isaac Eicher on mandolin. The lead guitarist is Ivan Pierce. Jim Spalding plays drums and adds vocals. Also listed on the promotional material are Marlon Carbone, Tyler Burns, and M’Lee Wells, I would imagine they do background vocals, but their contributions are not mentioned.
Give this debut album a listen. It will upset some. It will make them uncomfortable. It will get many thinking. If it does, it will be doing its job. These are songs that will stick with you. Think about some of the early Dylan classics; there are songs here that might well fit into those pretty big shoes. Give it a try, you can download it for a penny on the band’s website.