Self-described "outspoken acoustic protest rock duo" Haymarket Orphans recently released a sparsely produced but powerful CD. The sound of the self-titled recording can be described as monochromatic: a riffing acoustic guitar, sometimes with a second plunking out a lead; bongo-style percussion; and a male vocal so far back in the mix that he might as well be singing in the next room. It's too bad; the words are worth hearing.
The Orphans know their message and stick to it. Charles Haymarket -- he and his female bandmate claim they "keep changing their names in order to avoid becoming famous" -- has a plaintive delivery that calls to mind the pop-inflected warblings of a young Lou Reed.
The liner notes suggest we're living "in a world that's been union bashed, civil and human rights denied, red baited, world warred, nuclear bomb scared, Cointelpro'd, Watergated, Vietnamed, wiretapped, consumer distracted, downsized, outsourced, Sept 11th lied to, Iraq War lied to, Gitmo'd and Abu Ghraibed, spied on, stalked, and facing endless debt, spiritual decline and a trashed Earth." In other words, we're talking about good, old-fashioned protest music.
Here are some of my favorite lyrics from this edgy, 10-song set. "Saratoga": "It's not fear that makes the man, but how he stares it down." "Flag Song": "Our flag's been ripped down and shredded, by those who claim to love it most." "Suits and Uniforms": "Tanks and guns and bombs and planes, these are uniforms at play / badges, rank, decorum, honor / When all else fails, get out the armor, laws and courts seem made of stone, ask no questions, no one's home / Sirens wail and lights a flashing, tensions build and heads a bashing, trouble brews investigations / who thinks cops have good intentions?"
But Haymarket's acoustic ire doesn't stop there. "Tiny Little Moon" describes the ultimate consequence of battle: "Tiny little moon, if someday you glance, and we've gone quiet, and war wins in the end, and we go cold and dry, tell us if it was worth it."
The result of such a lo-fi recording is that you have to pay close attention to decipher the band's impassioned prose. In this case, at least, it's a good thing.