Music review

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Free Angela (Larry Saunders); The World Needs Changing (Ace Records); Liberation Music (Flying Dutchman Records)


At the end of 2013, Free Angela was reissued and two other compilations were released, all attempting to reflect the music of Black America in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Angela Davis was one of the best-known Communist Party activists in 1960s and 70s America. The then-governor of California, Ronald Reagan, tried to have her banned from teaching at any California university.

At Solidad prison three inmates had been indicted for murder on trumped up charges. Davis was chair of the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee and a vocal supporter of George Jackson, one of the three and a Black Panther. She was put on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list and arrested for first degree murder in what would become an internationally known trial.

Free Angela was put together by Alexander Randolph, a promoter and label owner from Virginia, to raise funds for the Free Angela Davis Defense Committee in 1971. Randolph was also an activist.

He had joined the protests following the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and knew of Davis who had grown up there. When she came to national attention he wanted to help and so released the album, writing and producing many of the songs, with half of the proceeds going to the campaign.

Free Angela is very much a record of two sides. The first consists of songs with Larry Saunders on vocals, all with a political content, whereas the rest of the album is rare tracks from Randolph's label, Sounds Of Soul. Free Angela although interesting, has in reality a political and cultural resonance way beyond its musical merits. It is nevertheless well worth a listen.

If you like jazz, though, Liberation Music may be the one for you. It consists of tracks from the Flying Dutchman label (which also provides many of the songs on The World Needs Changing) including Gil Scott-Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, as well as spoken-word excerpts from Angela Davis's Soul And Soledad, Carl B Stokes's The Mayor And The People and H Rap Brown's SNCC Rap albums.

Label owner Bob Thiele also worked with Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Charlie Haden and many others, and some of the recordings here reflect the close link between these leading jazz musicians and the political struggles of the day.

Last comes The World Needs Changing, which is a funky, soulful mix of music some of which has a political message, particularly the earlier tracks on the album. These include the title track, Joe Savage's All Power To The People, and an excellent cover of Cannonball Adderley's Walk Tall by Esther Marrow. The song had always been associated with the civil rights movement and it's no surprise that Marrow recorded it after having sung with activist Harry Belafonte and toured Europe as a singer with Martin Luther King.

Not every song on these three albums has a political message, but taken together they combine to give a real feel for the times and the links between culture, political activism and ideas. An afternoon spent listening to them, and maybe exploring other works by some of the artists, would be both a pleasure and an inspiration.