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From Brexit To The U.S. Presidential Race, Musicians Respond To Political Turmoil


This is FRESH AIR. We're living in a pretty politicized time, and our rock critic, Ken Tucker, has been listening to two examples of political music, the first by the veteran British punk band The Mekons. It was recorded in the wake of the Brexit vote. The second, by the American country rock band The Mavericks, comes in the wake of the Republican and Democratic conventions. Here's Ken's review.


THE MEKONS: (Singing) Come with us. Oh, come along. There's something going wrong. Tomorrow morning I must work. I know that you'll be gone. For those in peril on the seaside, put our faith on hold. Best to vanish without warning our land out of control.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: So it's a political year. And overseas, they're still coming to terms with Britain's vote to exit the European Union. To many, the results of the voting came as a saddening shock, and it's that reaction The Mekons address on their song called "Fear & Beer (Hymn For Brexit)." Jon Langford and his band of often-merry pranksters have spent a lot of time in Chicago in recent years, but the group originally formed in Leeds, England. They reach back to those roots on "Fear & Beer." It sounds like the kind of lovely but morose ditty the disparate patrons of a pub might gather round to sing just before closing down the joint.


THE MEKONS: (Singing) Dismal men in dreary sea towns buzz around like flies. Someone said we know what you're thinking. Try this on for size. Deep and still, blood on the pavement, sticks and stones, hold them in your hands. A pint of fear then home by tea time for we are afraid.

TUCKER: The Mekons see the Brexit vote as a grave mistake. Quote, "a pint of fear then home by tea time for we are afraid," they sing. The Mavericks are also thinking about the state of their world. They've looked around at the American political landscape, listened to the fear and loathing in some quarters directed at immigrants and decided to record a new version of a song first popularized in 1945 by Frank Sinatra called "The House I Live In."


THE MAVERICKS: (Singing) The house I live in, a plot of earth, a street, the grocer and the butcher and the people that I meet, the children in the playground, the faces that I see, all races, all religions, that's America to me.

TUCKER: "The House I Live In" appeared in a short film of the same name directed by Mervyn LeRoy and was intended to spread a message of tolerance during the post-World War II era. In the movie, Sinatra stops a group of boys who are taunting a Jewish kid, and he sings a song filled with simple yet evocative images of American life, which songwriters Earl Robinson and Lewis Allen render indivisible from American freedom. Mavericks lead singer Raul Malo does a beautiful job with the lyric, avoiding any sort of vocal comparison to Sinatra, singing with full-throated fervor.


THE MAVERICKS: (Singing) The place I work in, the worker at my side, the little town or city where my people lived and died, the howdy and the handshake, the air of feeling free, and the right to speak my mind out, that's America to me.

TUCKER: Raul Malo told Rolling Stone that this song paints a picture of what and who we are that many have forgotten or simply are trying to erase. This is why we have decided to record it at this time. These two performances take different approaches to the current climate. The Mekons want to deny their audience the excuse of mere resignation. Their song is full of worry. The one The Mavericks have plucked from the 1940s is full of comfort. Both bands might agree with a line Frank Sinatra says just before he launches into his song. With his best street smart snicker, he says use your good American heads. Don't let anybody make suckers out of you.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV.


FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) The town I live in, the street, the house, the room, the pavement of the city or a garden all in bloom, the church, the school, the clubhouse, the million lights I see, but especially the people, that's America to me.

GROSS: Tomorrow on FRESH AIR...


MERYL STREEP: (As Florence Foster Jenkins, singing) Oh, noble sir, how you err.

GROSS: ...I'll talk with Meryl Streep about learning to sing very badly. She stars in the new film "Florence Foster Jenkins" set in the 1940s based on the life of the New York socialite and heiress who performed arias and art songs totally off key and developed a following. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: FRESH AIR'S executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Meyers, Roberta Shorrock, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, John Sheehan Heidi Saman and Therese Madden, who also directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.
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