Bruce Hearn – The Word is the Music, The People are the Song – 2 CDs


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CD review by Tony Smith

Bruce Hearn wears his heart on his sleeve.

This 2020 double CD collection contains both original observations about Australian society and covers of historically prominent protest songs.

His interest began when his parents took him to a Pete Seeger concert, and later he sang some folk and protest songs with Greg Heenan.

In 1981, brother Ian persuaded him to join the Melbourne ska band ‘Strange Tenants’ and he supplied trumpet and vocals for decades.

In 2017, the 50th anniversary of the death of his hero, Woody Guthrie, Hearn went back to the guitar and this double CD is the result.

With Peter Beulke on double bass and Chris Woodward on guitar, banjo, mandolin and fiddle, Hearn with vocals, guitar, harmonica, charango and kazoo, put down these tracks unrehearsed, so retaining a genuine acoustic sound.

There is a distinct country feel to some of the original tracks such as ‘Inner City Cool’, ‘Salt of the Earth’, ‘Where is That Light on the Hill’ and ‘Grey Skies Over Collingwood’.

Among the more biting lyrics are those for ‘Death in Custody’, a song that Guthrie would have been proud to write.

‘To Australia’s shame, if you are arrested for a minor offence such as public drunkenness ‘you better hope that your skin is white.

Why did it take so long to get an inquiry/ who is going to be the next death in custody?’.

Hearn does a good version of Henry Lawson’s ‘The Old Rebel Flag’ and ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ has an ear worm of a chorus.

‘What Happened To My Country?’ laments some troubling developments in society and in relation to the environment while ‘Don’t Give Up’ and ‘There’s A Light’ express hopes for the future.

Not all of the covers on the second CD are by Seeger or by Guthrie, a saying of who’s Hearn chose for the album title.

There are Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice’ and ‘Song to Woody’, and Tom Paxton’s ‘Last Thing On My Mind’, and the final, ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’.

Hearn does sing Woody Guthrie’s ‘Sacco and Vancetti – Two Good Men’ and ‘Victor Jara’ of Chile by Adrian Mitchell and Arlo Guthrie.

Hearn does soulful covers of some songs that Guthrie would have performed, originating in the years of the Great Depression and lamenting the plight of the down and out.

These songs include ‘Brother Can You Spare A Dime’ and ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out’.

Hearn’s original songs are clearly Australian and contemporary.

He sings about Australian issues in an Australian style.

These songs are contemporary and provide a nice balance for the standard American material.

Bruce Hearn’s heart is in the right place and his inspiration by Guthrie, Seeger and Dylan unmistakeable.

Hopefully, there will soon be more songs emanating from Hearn’s finely defined social conscience.

Additional information

Weight .170 kg
Dimensions 21 × 15 × 1.00 cm


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