It's been eight years since Butch Hancock's last solo disc, and while he's been busy touring and recording with the Flatlanders, guiding river trips on the Rio Grande (oh, to have been a fly on the canyon wall when he took Ramblin' Jack Elliot into Santa Elena Canyon backwards), and building a life for himself and his family in the desert lowlands of Terlingua in the Big Bend region of southwest Texas, he has been paying attention. And, man, he is pissed, judging from War And Peace.
Warning: If you don't like politics in your folk music, pass this one by. This is nothing but; it's a seething, blistering rage unleashed, personal and macro, against the forces of No Dang Good. If one contemplates Hancock on a Dylan scale -- and I do because both came from isolated places, both pledge fealty to Woody Guthrie, both sing in a nasal whine, both engage in deep, intelligent wordplay, and I consider both to be great American songwriters -- this album is The Times They Are A-Changin' in texture and Blonde On Blonde in tone.
Hancock has never sounded as much the bandleader, opening with an a cappella chant that borders on being a dirge, tossing cellos into the mix (shades of Alejandro Escovedo!), doing some cool vocals that stir echoes of Terry Allen's smooth, sly snake-oil salesman delivery, and producing a rich sound that complements the essence of singer and guitar.
Just when you think you've figured out the album, he throws you a curve somewhere around "Road Map For The Blues", the first track that doesn't tilt against the political machine, and "Cast The Devil". Despair and rage turn into hope and optimism as Butch goes all Woody on us leading the sing-along on the spiritual "Brother, Won't You Shake My Hand?". Then he takes us skyward on the thoroughly uplifting "Pot Of Glue", a song with an engaging melody that sticks in your head, before closing with "Great Election Day", another rousing call-to-arms with a warning about voting machines tucked into the message. Things may be bad, but there's something we all can do about it.
The times may be a-changin' just enough for War And Peace to be embraced. Regardless, Hancock makes plain where he stands, like a real songster should.