Si Kahn-New Wood

August 5, 2008

Si Kahn

New Wood (1974) (Philo Records)

Si Kahn was heavily involved in the civil rights movement and founded Grassroots Leadership which advocates prison reform. He even wrote a book dedicated to the dangers of privatization upon democracy. His activist roots are readily apparent on New Wood, his debut album. His singing is so disarming and earnest and it is hard to believe that his weathered vocals aren’t the work of a much older soul. Si Kahn’s music paints a picture of blue collar labor, rural Americana and those forgotten by the government. New Wood is tribute to the working man and woman and a way of life that is slowly decaying.

On the surface, New Wood is a humble country-folk album, but his lyrics are so heartbreaking in how they detail the hopelessness and angst of the characters who populate his songs. I especially love “Blue Ribbon for the Boys at the Bar” and how it captures the camaraderie to be found at the local watering hole while addressing the sad nature of all the patrons on the stools. This album is the epitome of bittersweet because he romanticizes rural life, but never fails to describe the tragic underbelly of each subject’s existence. On the surface, “Better Half of You” is a tender tune about compatibility. but there is also an undercurrent that this guy has fucked up so many times and is somewhat deluded in his optimism. This double life inherent in each song is what draws me to each of Si Kahn’s narratives of folks dealing withe inevitable ups and downs in their lives.