(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
In this season traditionally
devoted to peace on earth and good will toward men, when we have neither right now, I submit that we could all do worse than
listen to Butch Hancock's new album, War and Peace.
This veteran West Texas song wrangler and member of the
Flatlanders has written and recorded a collection of songs dealing with war and peace. The fact that it's his first solo album
in some nine years indicates a level of motivation he obviously did not feel before.
Where most recent country war
songs have leaned toward a militant and powerfully patriotic feel, Hancock steps back and takes a more philosophical look
at the situation. Toby Keith's "Courtesy of Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" was perhaps the quintessential country
war song: big and boasting and smug. "Have You Forgotten," Darryl Worley's lament about 9/11, was written about the war in
Afghanistan but was appropriated by the Iraq War cheerleaders. Most recently, with "I Just Got Home From a War," Worley is
taking a more thoughtful stance about the whole doubtful venture.
But Hancock steps outside the fray to attempt to
put the whole thing into some kind of perspective. This is a quirky, typically Hancockesque leap of faith that invokes both
Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie in the lyrics. Musically, it invokes traditional West Texas flat-ahead rocking country as well
as traditional folk. In other words, it's what you would expect from Butch. And it's going to take me several more listenings
to sort it all out.
Hancock plays all instruments on this CD, apart from Flatlander guitarist Rob Gjersoe joining in.
Flatlanders Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore add harmony singing on "The Master Game" and "Cast the Devils Out." The latter
song has me pondering the questions Hancock is raising. When he sings, "Along came a man with oil in his heart/And he tried
to cast the devils out/He couldn't do it/He threw a few out of the White House but left some room for doubt/Who is he to cast
the devils out," you kind of think you know what he is talking about, but are you sure?
The opening and closing songs
here similarly invoke questions. "Give Them Water," the opener, is a lament for the whole sorry mess that is Iraq. The closing
song, "That Great Election Day," is a rousing anthem, saying, "Who's gonna be the master and who's gonna be the slave/On that
day, on that great election day/Now who's gonna vote their conscience/And who's gonna count the votes."
As he sings
in "Brother Won't You Shake My Hand": "If your religion lets you kill/You'll have lots of graves to fill/There's writing on
the walls in every land."
Peter Blackstock writes in the current issue of No Depression magazine that War
and Peace has had a profound effect on his father, prompting the elder Mr. Blackstock to send Hancock a note, reading,
in part (and I quote from Peter's editor's note in the current issue): "I've been waiting and waiting and waiting for us to
get to the stage in the Iraq war reached in the Vietnam war when Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary and all the others raised
their choruses in protest. Thank God, you've done what you've done. I hope it's the beginning of a flood."
Peace on earth. Good will toward men. Keep on the sunny side.