I don’t think I’ve ever written anything about Jake Speed without mentioning Woody Guthrie. Call me lazy, but the political Folk pioneer is such an obvious influence on Speed’s songs and lyrics it almost seems dishonest not to mention it.
While listening to World Come Clean, Jake Speed and the Freddies’ brand new release, I never thought of Woody once. On the album, Speed and his band still work within a traditional Americana format, but the songs are a bit more expansive and the claustrophobia of Folk clichés is alleviated by the more dynamic songwriting and performances. The album’s songs are far less predictable than ones from previous Speed releases, showing the maturity of Speed as a songwriter, refreshingly not purely working within the idioms of Folk music. There are shades of Rock, Blues, Country and Gypsy Jazz (and, yes, still lots of Folk) in the mix and The Freddies turn in typically perfect performances, showing they may just be the best Roots band in the city.
Thankfully, Speed’s lyrical approach remains socially/politically aware, with jabs at the U.S.’s current sad state. Most of the songs began as “Songatorials,” from Speed’s weekly song offerings for CityBeat throughout 2007, “Speedy Delivery,” based on current events. While these issues have often been diluted with a tinge of sharp humor on previous Speed recordings, here Speed plays it more straight. In fact, there’s a sense of urgency and even a little anger in the feel of many of these tracks, something largely absent from Speed’s discography so far. The fiery nature of the lyrics is translated wonderfully by the musicians, who perform the songs almost like a Punk Rock band. The album shifts gears halfway through with gentler songs that turn the anger and despair into hopefulness about the world and the future.
Some see Speed as a bit of a novelty act, his awshucks shtick and throwback duds making him seem like a costumed strolling troubadour at some Renaissance Fair-like Pioneer Days festival. But those people aren’t listening or paying close enough attention. World Come Clean should go a long way in dispelling such surface observations.
Jake Speed and the Freddies will celebrate the release of World Come Clean this Saturday with a free show at Northside Tavern. The Queen City Zapatistas open. (freddiesmusic.com)
Following its successful inaugural year in 2007, the World Music Fest returns to the Southgate House this Saturday for its second installment. The fest showcases Greater Cincinnati’s rich “World Music” scene, but doesn’t stop there, including artists that play everything from Latin music, Blues, Bossa Nova and Jazz to Reggae, Native American, Chinese, Celtic and Cajun music. The event also spotlights visual artists, with an exhibit featuring artwork with an “international theme.”
The lineup this year is again quite eclectic. Slated to appear: Andalus, BB Blues, Brasilla, Brasil Band, Eclipse, Faux Frenchmen, Harper, Kalimba, Lagniappe, Mardi Gras Indians, Nakama, Noyse Merchants, Poco Loco, Salsa Underground, Sky, Sunflower, Xie & Hu and The Zionites. They’ll join percussionist Jose Rosa (see interview on page 34) and other national acts.
Music will be featured in the Southgate House’s Lounge, Parlour, Ballroom and upstairs gallery. Showtime is 8 p.m. For the full schedule and to purchase tickets, go to worldmusicfest.org.