Review: PHIL OCHS In Concert

Elektra Traditions/Rhino

``I'm going to make a promise and I'm going to make a vow that when I got something to say, sir, I'm gonna say it now.'' If there's one thing we could always depend on, it was this promise from Phil Ochs. Liberals, demogoges and salesmen of all kinds regularly felt the sting of his songs, and poor people, political outcasts and lost souls could always depend on the soothing beauty of his poetry. Perhaps nothing brought both of these things to reality more readily than Phil in concert. My one and only experience with him live was at the tender age of 14 when I was taken on a New York adventure to hear someone who had in part inspired me to learn to play the guitar and sing the year before. Phil was a strange combination of warmth aloofness. His songs spoke of things I knew I had to learn to understand, and his sweet voice was such a contrast to the whining drawl of Dylan or the incessant growl of sixties rock. Here was an angry young man who believed in beauty, a thoughtful revolutionary.

In Concert captures these elements well. The album was a collection of music from performances in New York and Boston in 1965 and 1966. His pre-song banter was funny and bitter. Introducing Ringing of Revolution he casts a movie in his mind: ``John Wayne plays Lyndon Johnson and Lyndon Johnson plays God. I play Bobby Dylan.'' Here in the heart of the monster that was the Vietnam war he calls for a revolution of decency in rich poetry rather than trivial diatribe. That was Ochs' strong card, his clarity of ideals that left him isolated by the didatic left and the fascist right, neither of which had much time for poetry, art and decency in those days. In Concert presented 11 songs, most of which were new to his repetoire at the time but are now considered classic Ochs: Cops of the World Love Me, I'm a Liberal and the now painfully and beautifully prophetic When I'm Gone. These songs that were timely then and strangely timeless now. - Cliff Furnald

This review originally appeared in CMJ New Music Reports. Copyright 1995 Cliff Furnald