Various Artists – Not In Our Name

Album Review | Songs for Change | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 3/5

In light of the recent announcement that British troops are to be taken out of Iraq by the end of May 2009, only then presumably to be redeployed in Afghanistan, makes the songs on Not In Our Name even more poignant.  The title itself is a simple statement that needs no elaboration, and the artists who have contributed to this collection are no stranger to protestations of political and human injustice.  If it comes as no surprise that long-term supporters of freedom, equality and justice (Dick Gaughan, Jim Page and Roy Bailey) make appearances here, then the collection of songs may also serve to introduce some newer voices that are willing to speak out against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  With contributions from British, American and Australian artists, there comes a widespread and united voice, crossing genres and cultures but maintaining a rootsy feel.  Opening with the bluesy “Man of God” courtesy of Eliza Gilkyson, the album sets out its statement of intent from the get-go, with a thinly disguised portrayal of John Dubya Wayne getting us into this fix in the first place.  Leon Rosselson’s lyrics have long been his familiar weapons of mass construction, and “General Lockjaw Briefs the Troops as Reported by a Sceptical Soldier” once again reveals a songwriter who likes to get straight to the point, no messing.  The subject of the relationship between oil and the war, most impressively realised in Jim Page’s “Petroleum Boneparte”, unfortunately not included here, is suitably addressed by Emma’s Revolution with “CodePINK” and Rory McLeod in his “No More Blood for Oil”, which features bodies dropping at each regimented shot to an infectious Latin rhythm. David Ferrard on the other hand, who wrote the sleeve notes to this collection and who is very much behind the project, contributes a live version of his song “Hills of Virginia”, which offers a more tender approach to protest that wends its way to the listeners’ conscience through a whisper rather than a yell.  Whilst most of the recordings here are gathered from previously released albums, Roy Bailey and Martin Simpson’s reading of Jim Page’s “Collateral Damage”, with its homage to Woody Guthrie’s “Deportees”, was one of the songs recorded specifically for the album, as was Jim Page’s own performance of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, a poignant song recently performed by Roy Bailey at his 50th Anniversary concert in Sheffield.  Two other contributions, “Home Injured” by Amy Martin and “Dear John” by Jose were winning songs in a 2006 Songs for Change competition and worthy additions to this collection, with all proceeds going to the Stop the War Coalition.  As with most intelligently devised collaborations dealing with the sensitive subject of world conflict, the only way to conclude with any sense of humility, is to end with a song of hope.  Mark Erelli’s country inflected “The Only Way” points us all in the direction of hope in light of 9/11 and speaks for all the songwriters and musicians involved in this project with the final verse: ‘I won’t tell you what to believe, but I’m too young to be cynical and too old to be naive; every action breeds a reaction, so let this be mine’.