Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Beau - Shoeless In The Desert


How I survived the aftermath of the general election with a little help from Kurt Vonnegut and Beau's latest LP.


After the all too depressing results of the recent general election sank in, and the prospect of another five years of Tory government became a reality, my Twitter feed turned quickly from pre-election optimism and hope, to despair and blame. It also filled with scaremongering about what we as a society needed to prepare ourselves for. There was one tweet, amongst the deluge, that stuck in my mind and seemed to sum up where our society is heading. It highlighted a quote from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5, about how the American poor are encouraged to despise themselves, perpetuating their position and lack of opportunity while bolstering that of the rich and powerful. This, Vonnegut states, is in contrast to many other countries which have folk tales that value wisdom over wealth, and virtue over self-serving ambition -

America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” (Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse 5)

It's easy to see the parallels in modern Britain where our underclass is routinely ridiculed on TV, or attacked in the press, whereas corporations are free to avoid taxes if they pay enough donations to the right political parties. Timely then that the latest album from Beau should drop through my letterbox around the same time as did many electoral leaflets and voting reminders. It too chimes themes similar to those found in Slaughterhouse 5, along with other cautionary tales about corruption and misuse of wealth. Listening to Beau's latest work did give me some hope for the spiritual well being of our nation, which in the immediate wake of the election seemed somehow broken and in need of some TLC.

Shoeless In The Desert is a gentle compassionate album, and like those folk tales it champions wisdom and virtue. Recorded simply and in the timeless folk way of just voice and one 12-string guitar, no overdubs, it's an album that's all about melody and message. Themes spread across the album's fourteen songs include religion, immigration, environmental concerns, alongside more personal takes on relationships, ageing, and even a humorous sideswipe at coronary heart disease.

In our current sound-bite and shuffle era it's encouraging to see long-form songwriting done so well. And no wonder - Beau has been writing, recording and performing music for over four and a half decades. His early championing by John Peel tells you all you need to know about the calibre of his work. (Peel released Beau's debut as the first release on his Dandelion label). In a fairer world Beau would be a much valued cultural treasure, up alongside Dylan, Mitchell, Cohen and the like. As it is the world is not always fair, something that may become all too apparent over the next few years. Thankfully we have the likes of Beau to help fight our corner and cushion any blows. Long may it be so.


Click here for more from Beau.