If you''re at all like Jefferson Pepper, you''ve no doubt caught yourself wondering over the past couple of years, “What has happened to my country?” For Pepper, it was a notion that he could not let go. For him, it wasn’t just a rhetorical, abstract question. He wanted answers. He started reading. And writing songs.
Lots of songs.
He spent the winters of 2006 and 2007 holed up in his cedar-sided home studio in the Conewago Mountains of southern Pennsylvania. As the snow piled up outside, he became more and more reclusive, sometimes going for several weeks at a time without leaving the house. For two years he worked feverishly on writing and recording the songs that would be included on his sophomore effort, the follow-up to his acclaimed 2005 post-industrial Americana debut album Christmas in Fallujah.
Inspired in part by Howard Zinn’s landmark book A People’s History of the United States and by the Dover Intelligent Design Trial (Kitzmiller vs Dover School Board) which played out in his backyard of Dover, PA, Pepper is releasing American Evolution, an ambitious 3-CD series of 50 original songs. The CDs are being released by American Fallout Records, with Volume 1 coming out on January 22,2008, Volume 2 on April 1, 2008 Volume 3 on June 10, 2008 and a limited edition box set on November 17, 2008.
On American Evolution, Pepper tackles some of this country''s sacred cows and taboos, such as Columbus Day, economic disparity, the military-industrial complex, religious fundamentalism, Disney World and runaway materialism. Pepper wanted to tell the story of his America from the point of view of those who have seldom had a voice. The golden thread of his narrative is that the exploitation of working people has always been a part of the social fabric of this nation and that war is and always has been an instrument of bringing the many under the domination of the few. Each song addresses another piece of this nation’s history. Beginning with the pre-Columbian era, American Evolution moves through time to the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, World War II, the Civil-Rights Era, Vietnam, post-industrial America, to the present and ends by stepping off into the future and where we are headed. In addition to the evolution of our culture, Pepper also incorporates an evolving progression of musical styles, from old-time fiddle tunes, folk, blues, country and bluegrass to alternative, roots rock, warped disco, punk, alt country, grunge and contemporary post-industrial Americana. Even by incorporating all of these musical styles, Pepper still manages to find his own voice and carve out a niche that is original and unique.
American Evolution Volume I (the Red album) covers the time period 1492 to 1940. Stylistically, the seventeen songs range from old-timey fiddle tunes, folk, blues and swing to bluegrass, alt-country, Americana and roots rock. Can’t Go Home (track 1) begins with the sweet singing of songbirds in a pre-Columbian America and ends with the death of the last human on earth in a concrete bunker seven stories underground. Columbus Day discusses the bloody first encounter between native Americans and European conquerors. The Sheep and the Goats reminds us of the importance of following the Golden Rule. Lewis and Clark Homecoming is an instrumental fiddle tune which captures the celebration of the return of this historic early nineteenth century expedition. Trail of Tears is a roots rock gem about man’s reptilian brain and us-versus-them mentality. Can’t Come Back reminds us to get all we can from life because we’re all “going like a freight train, rolling down a one way track”. Appomattox is an old-timey instrumental which celebrates the end of the Civil War. Rockefellers brings the record into the industrial revolution. Only Survivor makes observations on the Statue of Liberty. Riverbank Blues takes you to the banks of the Mississippi on a lonely summer day. Dam in the River of Life considers the religious, social and psychological effects of Darwin’s theory. Fine Fine Day offers a new spin on the virtues of electricity. I Don’t Wanna Be Alone is an old-timey ditty about the evolution of a married couple’s life together. Stranger in the Glass is about a person who no longer recognizes his own face. Paperback Romance is a 3/4 time waltz about an orphan girl working in a second hand store. Wood and Wire talks about a man who is unhappy living in his soulless house. Primates Swingin’ is a fun song done in a Texas swing style which discusses the origins of humankind.
American Evolution Volume 1 includes many fine musicians: Scott Fisher and Marshall Deasy on drums and percussion, Mike Argento and Chris Planas on electric guitars, Kenny Geist and Jon Shain on acoustic and electric guitars, Thom Bissey on electric bass, Rod Goelz on upright bass, Randy Stewart on Banjo, Bill Nork on Dobro, Joe Allison on fiddle and mandolin and Ray Eicher on pedal steel. Jefferson Pepper provides all lead and harmony vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass, mandolin, harmonica, keyboards and percussion. The album was recorded by Jefferson Pepper, Marshall Deasy and Josh Myers at the House of Beer Cans in York Haven, PA and Stress Free Studios in Harrisburg, PA. Mixing and mastering were completed at Stress Free.
The grandson of coal miners and farmers and the son of a factory worker, Jefferson Pepper has experienced firsthand the challenges of living the American Dream in rural Pennsylvania. He has worked as a stock clerk in a grocery store, a bricklayer and a factory worker. He identified at an early age with working people and the uphill battles they faced. His earliest exposure to music was in the Baptist church where his mother sang in the choir. In school he discovered alternative and punk artists such as Patti Smith, Nirvana and The Clash. It wasn’t until later that he became interested in Country and Folk-Rock artists such as Neil Young, John Prine and Johnny Cash. These artists all left an indelible mark on his song writing.
In 2005, Jefferson Pepper took out a second mortgage on the modest, wood-sided home he built in the hills of rural south-central Pennsylvania in order to finance the recording of his debut release Christmas in Fallujah. His inspiration was David Maples, a 21-year-old neighbor kid; a kid Jefferson and his wife had watched grow up; a kid who went along on family vacations; a kid who caught lightning bugs and frogs and played games in the backyard on warm summer nights. David was a dimpled dreamer with aspirations of becoming a doctor. With no money for college or medical school, David joined the Army to train as a medic. David was shipped off to Iraq.
Jefferson Pepper was angry.
As with many who watched the horrors of the Iraqi quagmire unfold, Jefferson felt helpless. So, he did what he had to do to communicate the feelings that would not be considered appropriate in polite conversation: he wrote songs.
The songs on Christmas in Fallujah explore the darker side of the American social and political landscape. Stylistically, the songs range from roots-rock and folk to alt country, often infused with punk’s energy. Stories are told from the vantage points of a disillusioned soldier (title track), a bloated defense contractor (M-16), a lover regretting a failed relationship (Bethlehem, PA), a restless man in a restless culture (Interstate Highway), an isolated byproduct of poor residential planning (Stranded), an unemployed factory worker (Back To 1999), a spurned boyfriend (Christmas Tree), a disillusioned child (Deceived), a grieving mother (Why?), a man pondering the military-industrial complex (Armageddon For Sale) and a widowed victim of Hiroshima (Plastic Illuminated Snowman). Two cover songs are included on the album: the traditional Soldier’s Joy and an amped-up, buzz-saw, punkabilly version of Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land.
Christmas in Fallujah was released on a limited basis in October, 2005. By November, it had reached # 23 on the Freeform American Roots Radio Chart. By December, it had reached # 13 on the Euro Americana Chart. By January 2006, it had reached # 181 on the AMA Americana Radio Chart, # 17 on the Roots Music Report Roots Rock Radio Chart, # 10 on the Roots Music Report Top 100 Radio Chart and finally peaked at # 1 on the Roots Music Report Folk Radio Chart. Reviewer Malcolm Carter (Pennyblack Music, UK), called Christmas in Fallujah "the year''s best album". Geraint Jones (UK), proclaimed Christmas in Fallujah “one of 2005''s best”.
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