Farewells and Fantasies
Elektra Traditions via Rhino Records
I am never one to pass up an opportunity to sing the praises of songwriter and musical journalist Phil Ochs. His ability top piss off absolutely everyone around him is legend, and this collection is a perfect expose of the insightful, complicated, witty, cynical and sometimes baffling mind that created some of the most beautiful love songs ever written, and some of the cruelest commentaries ever put on paper and vinyl. While his contemporaries were writing "protest" songs or singing irrelevant "folk" songs from the past, Ochs was deriding not only the government and its activities, but just as often was commenting on the stupidity of the "left" of the 60s that seemed to have ossified. In his view, American media (and often, Americans) had become the embodiment of an apocalyptic vision that seemed to gnaw at Ochs as his songs depicted brutality at home and abroad, personal and political.
While the world was pigeonholing folk singers into a corner occupied by Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan, Phil was plugging in and tuning out, doing Bo Diddley riffs and cheesy country as he portrayed his America in both affectionate, funny and miserable ways. This 3 CD set covers his days at Elektra and A&M Records, with a smattering of live material, out takes and unreleased oddities, but it is in some of those well-known classics that Ochs still strikes the hardest, from the bittersweet "Flower Lady," through the hopeful "Power and Glory" and into the dark "Crucifixion" and the acerbic "Love Me I'm A Liberal." Ochs suffered terribly, and one could easily argue that by the time he got to Gunfight At Carnegie Hall and tunes like "Gas Station Women" he had lost his way. But even in the darkest times, he was an astute observer of his times, and even more importantly, something of a seer, who foresaw the end of the American century earlier than most. Perhaps its his optimism that eventually killed him, because try as he might, he couldn't sustain it in the face of what he saw on the streets, on the TV and even in his musical cohorts. Spend three hours with these recordings and you will suffer some of the same confusion. - Cliff Furnald