A worthy tribute to one of the few punk bands that really meant what they sang.
Louis Pattison 2007
One of the premier exponents of 'antifolk' an urban folk subgenre popular in the cafes, clubs and open mic nights of New York City, singer-songwriter and sometime comic book artist Jeffrey Lewis combines the trappings of folk – acoustic guitar, violin, and a propensity for tale-telling – with a brainy, pop-cultural knowingness. 12 Crass Songs, accordingly, seems at first something of an intellectual exercise – a dozen cover songs of Crass, the black-clad DIY punk revolutionaries that preached a doctrine of 'anarchy and peace' from their converted farmhouse on the lip of Epping Forest until their eventual dissolution in 1984.
But if this project had the distinct possibility of coming off like square pegs forced into round holes, it's pleasing to report that Lewis' tender, halting treatments seem to somehow unlock something new in the songs – a sense of humanity hidden under the spittle, anger and rage. Crass' "Punk Is Dead" attacked punk bands selling out to the major labels, but in Lewis' hands, it's a warning to anyone seeking to put a rock star on a pedestal: 'I'm tired of staring through shit-stained glass/I'm tired of staring up a superstar's ass', he sings, atop finger-picked guitar and a wonky piano elegy.
"Do They Owe Us A Living", finds Lewis fleshing out his sound, a galloping hoe-down that rattles along on trap snare and sing-along vocals. And there is one track chucked in that rocks as hard as the original in the shape of "Big A Little A", a crashing guitar tantrum that preaches personal freedom against the grim backdrop of the atom bomb. Revolutionary doctrine presented as tremulous acoustic folk: it shouldn’t work, really. But on 12 Crass Songs, Jeffrey Lewis has paid a worthy tribute to one of the few punk bands that really meant what they sang. That he's also made his best album to date makes the achievement even greater.