Getting psyched for the upcoming release this year of a new American Gun album, I realized that I’d let AG ringleader Todd Mathis‘ recent solo album War Songs slip by without comment. Released last fall, the songs all deal directly with the subject of war, something that has become such a daily part of our lives since the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts that it’s hardly mentioned in the news any more.
As a musician, Mathis would probably agree that his two biggest influences are Neil Young and Steve Earle, with a bit of the postpunk swagger of Lucero and Uncle Tupelo thrown in. All of those sonic identities show up here, from the Earle-esque “Lock & Load” with the line “See you in Hell, boys, I’ll be waiting,” to the Lucero/Springsteen/Chuck Berry riffs of “Daisy Cutter” and the Young-ish stomp of “Simple Destruction.”
Protest songs as a genre are sometimes stiff and tiresome as songwriters attempt to shoehorn their opinions into current events and issues, but Mathis sidesteps most of the pitfalls by focusing on individual perspectives, not overarching ideas, making the politics of the pieces personal.
Not all of these songs confront contemporary clashes, however. “The Conquerors” reaches back to the conquistadors and colonists of the New World who offered “trinkets for gold,” before progressing to the present day where the phrase shifts to “Trinkets for oil.” “Stonewall”, likewise, is an anthem about the Civil War Confederate general Stonewall Jackson set to a military march cadence.
Any student of history knows the line about ‘those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it;’ mark War Songs as Mathis’ artistic contribution to that learning process.
Here’s an acoustic version of “Lock & Load” from Todd: