Listen: Grab a root and growl

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Article Reviews
The Citizens Band (Press Hear Records, 2012)

Pop music and musicians have long been an integral part of our presidential election circus. The non-partisan “Rock the Vote” campaign has rolled along in the mainstream for two decades now, but Grab a Root and Growl is the most unlikely presidential election year pop music project you could possibly imagine.

The founders of The Citizens Band were inspired by the play Cabaret, set in 1930s Berlin, that married avant garde style and sophistication to heart-on-the-sleeve human rights advocacy. That wasn’t an unusual combination during the Great Depression, when intellectuals and artists of every stripe rallied around America’s New Deal and Europe’s Popular Front.

For the bohemian singers, musicians, models, actors, dancers, and acrobats of The Citizens Band, the time for such all-hands-on-deck unity has come again. The Citizens Band is more of a performance collective than a recording act, but even without the band’s wacky visuals, a consistent soundscape emerges on this collection. It’s often hard to tell period covers such as Jimmy Dorsey’s “This Is Worth Fighting For” and Glenn Miller’s “I Swung the Election” from The Citizens Band’s originals.

The contemporary numbers tackle issues such as deficits (“The Debt Rattle”), fuel prices (“Gasoline”), and religious intolerance (“I Ain’t Afraid . . . of your Yahweh, your Allah, your Jesus”). But the band’s deepest and truest contribution to the 2012 political scene comes on anthems to human solidarity such as the rollicking, “You Just Can’t Make It by Yourself,” which reminds today’s “We built that” crowd that “mother, sister, brother, you’re bound to need each other.”

It’s stirring stuff, and if you can fight the good fight in a stylish tutu or a vintage tuxedo, so much the better.           

This article appeared on the November 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 11, page 42