You don’t often associate poetry and metaphor with protest music. But therein lies the rub: Alun Parry is no protest singer. He’s a folk hero.
Folk music comes in many colours and whilst it’s true that Parry’s broadsides are very often shaded with the colour of protest, to reduce his art to just that would be an injustice. Parry is a songwriter of conviction – conviction in his voice, conviction in his ability to find new melodies from well-worn chord sequences and conviction in his songs. It’s just as well, really, as the twelve songs on Freedom Rider – his fourth full-length album – are tunes to believe in.
They’re also songs that you’ll have to live with a bit longer than you usually might with Parry. In the past, great songs like You Are My Addiction, I Want Rosa To Stay and My Name Is Dessie Warren have all gotten under my skin immediately – they’re from the ‘three chords and the truth’ school of songwriting. But that’s stopped on the self-produced Freedom Rider (it sounds great, by the way). Sure, the music remains full of clarity and concision, but the lyrics and melodies hide that habitual honesty the singer is loved for behind a wall of resignation.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still lots of “don’t give up” (the bouncy Jack Jones), “until we’re free” (the Americana-tinged Freedom Rider) and “we won’t let that stand in our way” (the brilliant Song For John Hartwell), but the heart of this record is revealed in the minor chord that ends the devastating Take Your Children To The Hill. You’ll also find its centre in the beautiful waltz of One Last Try and within the mournful fiddle ache that opens the brilliant Dig Boys Dig, too (“every day is a fight with the coal and I’ll tell you the coal wins as often as me… “). There’s glimpses of all this beauty in lots of Parry’s previous work, but if you own all of his music, you don’t own what Freedom Rider offers. And nobody has written a song like the aforementioned Take Your Children To The Hill before…