Buddy Tabor, from Juneau, Alaska, is a great friend of the Yukon music scene. He’s performed at countless festivals, collaborated with local musicians and his songs are frequently covered live and on recordings.
So when Tabor was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, local musicians jumped to help. A benefit concert was quickly organized where artists such as Kim Beggs, Kim Barlow, Rick Sward, Peggy Hanifan, Pete and Mary Beattie, and Kevin Barr and Bob Hamilton performed their favourite songs from Tabor’s vast repertoire.
As well, a three-CD collection, Anthology, was printed for sale, containing over 60 songs spanning Tabor’s entire songwriting career.
Tabor is originally from Roanoke, Virginia, but in the 1960s he hit the road, hitchhiking Kerouac-style all the way across the United States before finally settling in Juneau.
His music is folk-country, in the tradition of great songwriters like Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt, John Prine and Bob Dylan. Like them, his voice isn’t perfect, it’s unvarnished, nasal and real, but has a strong emotional range that suits the stories he tells.
He accompanies himself on acoustic guitar and has a host of friends (unfortunately for this collection, they’re uncredited) on electric and slide guitar, harmonica, backup vocals, mouth-bow, percussion and, on one song, uilleann pipes.
His political songs, most of them appearing on the first disc of this compilation, show him to be a social democrat, empathizing with the poorest of the poor – the laid off, the addicted, the incarcerated.
“Methamphetamines“, for example, tells the story of a man who meets a speed-addicted prostitute during an economic bust, while “Corporate Domination”, “Mr. Basketball Shoes” and “Billy the Kid” could be adopted as theme songs for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Tabor is critical of the attitude of Republican politicians and conservative commentators, whom he considers to be hypocrites, in their attitude towards drugs (“Three Strikes”) and religion (“Jesus Loves Me More than He Loves You”).
“Brand New Jesus”, a dream of a conservative Christ, is heartbreakingly sung: Let them try to find a job if they really want to eat/I gave up on these a long time ago/When I turned these loaves and fishes into stone.
In contrast, he also sings “Father’s Grave”, about growing up poor in Virginia, but still having a great life, thanks to his living parents. We did not know that we were poor, to us it did not matter/But to him it broke his heart, cracked in pieces as it shattered.
Many of Tabor’s songs are about aboriginal culture and spirituality (his wife, Jeannette Chee, is Navajo from White Water, New Mexico), such as “Oklahoma PowWow”, “Medicine Song”, “Black Crow Night” and “Brother Lowdown”.
Others are about religion: “Compassion of Job”, “Jesus & Lazarus” and “Isaiah’s Dream” show that his politics are a reflection of his faith.
Gathering all these stories together, Anthology is more than a collection of Tabor’s songs. These songs are his beliefs, his experience, his obsessions and his soul. And through these songs, we experience them too, as vividly and impressively as Tabor himself.
Outstanding Tracks: “Brand New Jesus” and “Abandoned Cars & Broken Hearts”.