Jeffrey Lewis - 12 Crass Songs

Album: 12 Crass Songs
Artist: Jeffrey Lewis
Released: 2007
Rating: 4/5

Exactly what the title says it is. Cartoonist/anti-folk artist Jeffrey Lewis covering twelve songs by the famous anarcho-punk collective Crass. Crass agreed to the project, apparently respecting Lewis' intent and just wanting to get their message out more. For those of you unfamiliar with Crass, they were a group of anarchists who put out music during the first wave of punk as a way of getting out their message to the public, probably best known for this song. Jeffrey Lewis is a cartoonist who also makes anti-folk records (more popular examples of anti-folk would be Will Oldham/Bonnie "Prince" Billie/Palace or early Smog). And the album is actually good.

Lyrics were always the most important part of Crass's music, but on the original recordings, they were impossible to understand, which meant you either had to look them up or get a lyric sheet. Lewis gives the songs quiet rearrangements based mostly around his acoustic guitar (only "Big A, Little A" has electric guitar) and his somewhat nasally, half-spoken vocals. This allows the lyrics to come to the forefront and really make their point, which was always really the purpose of Crass's music anyway. Drums, piano, and strings are occasionally provided, but they mostly stay in the background and just accent Lewis' guitar and vocals. Helen Schreiner also provides backing vocals on some songs.

Lewis' choice of songs and arrangements throughout are good. Songs like "Securicor", "Do They Owe Us A Living?", and "Banned From The Roxy" get quick, punky playthroughs with shouted backing vocals that highlight their anthemic qualities. "The Gasman Cometh" and "Punk Is Dead" get fittingly downbeat interpretations. And Lewis even takes on Crass's experimental side, trying out "Walls (Fun In The Oven)" pretty succesfully and letting news and radio samples and a droning organ run through "Demoncrats".

A possibly bad idea on paper that turned out good in execution.

Highlights: "Systematic Death", "Do They Owe Us A Living?", "Punk Is Dead"