Rev. Billy Brings His Infectious Environmentalist Punk Gospel to an Old Haunt

by delarue

For the past several years, Billy Talen has been a thorn in the side of the robber barons, the banksters and their schemes to transfer income up from working people to the one-tenth-of-one-percent…as well as speaking truth to power as far as how global chains are destroying the individual fabric of communities worldwide. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Talen became an even more committed environmentalist. Since then, he’s given the bozack to rapacious mountaintop clearcutters, agribusiness and their frankenseeds and frankenfood. He’s got a new book out, The Earth Wants YOU, and an album of the same title with his mighty punk gospel group. Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir‘s new record is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing the album release show at a familiar haunt, Joe’s Pub tomorrow night, May 10 at 9:30 PM. Cover is $12, or $10 with code “Earthalujah.”

The group are sort of the gospel version of the Clash. Depending on where they’re playing – bank headquarters, ATMs and Starbucks are where Talen and his activist crew typically get cuffed by the cops – they often number more than forty people. The core of the band comprises pianist/musical director Nehemiah Luckett, bassist Nathan Stevens and drummer Eric Johnson. As befits a democracy, singers from throughout the choir get plenty of chance to show off their chops. Soprano Laura Newman is more or less the main soloist, and contributes many of the songs as well: if Rev. Billy is the group’s Joe Strummer, she’s their Mick Jones.

The album opens with Flying, its 70s latin soul groove anchored by an understatedy ominous eco-disaster theme and “circle around” vocal riff. Newman’s powerful soprano fuels the swinging, antique-flavored gospel anthem Fabulous Bad Weather: when global warming really gets out of control, “What will you do?” Newman  calls to the choir for an answer.

Revolution is a ferociously relevant mashup of latin soul and hip-hop, referencing Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood while making the connection between the prison-industrial complex, eco-disaster and the destruction of individual cultures around the world. Another edgy latin soul groove, Monsanto Is the Devil calls bullshit on the dangers of GMO seeds: “The devil must be slain,” the choir roars.

Talen makes his first appearance out in front of the group in The Human Blues, fervently pondering how so many of us got lost and switched out community for apathy. The Man Down offers swaying, towering encouragement to “get home safe,” commemorating the murder of innocent victims from Trayvon Martin all the way back to Emmett Till.

Climate Change Blues and Gratitude, both oldschool gospel tunes, take a more personal view of activist commitment. Newman immortalizes the Declaration of Occupy Wall Street in the massive epic We Are The 99%. The brief Cops & Bankers reminds that cops on the beat and people who work in banks are 99-percenters just like us…and that we ought not to jump to conclusions about them.  The album winds up with the snarky, satirical Shopocalypse, a throwback to the irresistibly fun, funny anti-consumerist anthems of the band’s early years. A towering triumph for the entire crew, including but not limited to singers Lillian Ball, Jess Beck, Gusti Bogok, Mayfield Brooks, John Carlin, Sierra Carrere, Molly Chanoff, Katie Degentesh, Dragonfly, Ben Dubin-Thaler, Gina Figueroa, Christopher Beck, Donald Gallagher, Yvonne Gougelet, Amber Gray, Gaylen Hamilton,  Pat Hornak, Monica Hunken, Lizzie Hurst, Sarah East Johnson, Denice Kondick, Barbara Robin Lee, E. Katrina Lewis, Chantel Cherisse Lucier,  Laurie Mitttleman, Shilpa Narayan, Onome, Sylver Pondolfino, Susannah Pryce, John Quilty, Shuhei Shimizu, Ashlie Lauren Smith, Dawn Stewart-Lookkin, Catherine Talese, Theodros Tamirat, Travis Tench, Chideo Tsemunhu, Danny Valdes and David Yap.