Nashville-based Americana songwriter Matt Haeck was still in shock last year after Trump’s election when a new song from an artist whose album he was producing, Rayvon Pettis, shook him out of his stupor. “Lailly and Abdullah” is the heart-breaking story of two young Aghani lovers torn apart by war, and it came to Haeck just a few days post-election. Unsure of how to respond and bombarded by fellow folk songwriters looking to fight back, the song unlocked a new perspective on resistance. “Love is protest,” Haeck says now over the phone, and “protest is love. That’s what I realized. I love people and I see vulnerable people getting trampled on. As someone who’s been privileged not to be affected by oppression, I feel responsible to do what I can to fight against it when I see it.” That feeling of love that Haeck got from being exposed to a humanized Afghani story, as opposed to the daily barrage of virtual news, was something he wanted to pay forward, a new way to resist Trump’s regime. The next day he put out an ask on Facebook for friends to help him put together an album of love and protest and was bombarded by requests, many from Nashville friends and colleagues. Working together with Doug Williams of Wild Ponies, the two took the small bit of money sent them from a willing donor and booked two days at John Prine’s Butcher Shoppe recording studio in Nashville and brought in as many artists as they could for a whirlwind series of recordings. A key idea of the album was to keep the resistance local to Nashville artists.
Each artist latched on to the idea of love and protest, bringing new or newly-recorded songs that dealt with the balance between anger over Trumps policies and compassion for the modern tragedies they’re engendering. Celebrated songwriter Mary Gauthier contributed an alternate version of her classic song “Mercy Now,” produced by Ray Kennedy. Nashville songwriter Tim Easton recorded a brand-new version of his classic song “News Blackout,” as did Christian rock icon and agitator Derek Webb, who re-recorded and even updated his song “A Savior on Capitol Hill.” Eclectic Americana songwriter Steve Poltz wrote a funny anti-Trump screed, “Hey God,” with the opening line, “Hey God, I’ll trade you Donald Trump for Leonard Cohen.” Young psych-country singer Rorey Carroll cut her dream-like song “When the Wind Breaks Your Knees” with engineer/producer Gabe Masterson at Cafe Rooster’s studio in one day. Matt Haeck contributed a new song of his own, “America is Watching TV,” with this stand-out line: “All the world is watching America, America’s watching TV.” Breakout Nashville soul singer Devon Gilfillian reaches across the aisle with a new song, “Use Your Words,” and Will Kimbrough wrote one of the most affecting songs of the album, requoting Trump’s infamous Pussygate speech. “We all can do something,” Haeck says. “Take what you do already and apply it. I figured, I know how to make records and music, what if I just applied this on as big a scale as I could.” The result of Haeck’s initiative is an album of some of Nashville’s best songwriters coming together in love and protest.
Strange Freedom: Songs of Love and Protest is set to be released by Nashville independent label, Cafe Rooster Records, a collective for music, visual arts and causes. The artists for this compilation collectively decided that all proceeds will go to support Planned Parenthood. More info at caferoosterrecords.com.
1. Radney Foster – All That I Require
2. Devon Gilfillian – Use Your Words
3. Tim Easton – News Blackout
4. Mary Gauthier – Mercy Now
5. Matt Haeck – America’s Watching TV
6. Rayvon Pettis – Lailly and Abdullah
7. Steve Poltz – Hey God
8. Phil Madeira – Give God the Blues
9. Derek Webb – Savior on Capitol Hill
10. Rorey Carroll – When the Wind Breaks Your Knees
11. Rod Picott – Coal Mine
12. Will Kimbrough – U Can Do Anything (Trump’s Blues)
13. Wild Ponies – Love is not a Sin