Way back in the early 1970s, I bought an album called Fable Of The Wings.
It was one of those moments. The title track was also one of those moments: it was, and has remained, one of the greatest lyrics of its age, and of any other. The entire album seemed brilliantly underlit, something shining and dark at the same time, with fierceness and focus and the spicy aftertaste of personal anger.
Keith Christmas, the maker of all this intensity and magic, was never going to kick anyone out of his limousine. I could hear echoes of Phil Ochs in there: despair at the folly of his fellows, unable or just unwilling to detach, but there to chronicle the days. This was protest music, the real deal.
As it happens, it’s still the real deal. With his new CD, Crazy Dancing Days, Christmas shows – with no holds barred – that the passing of the days can still hit him, and anyone open to hearing and feeling what we’re all told not to hear or feel. He has lost nothing in the four and a half decades since that astonishing narrative about a woman who takes pills and wakes with wings and makes a heartbreaking decision about what to do about them.
Crazy Dancing Days, edge to edge, is the work of a man whose life experience is ongoing and relentless. It’s anchored firmly by the political tone, set early with “Welcome To The End Of The World (One More Time)”, and continues through statement songs like “When The New Man Comes To Power” and “If The Young Don’t March”. We need this, as much as we can get of it, right now; we’re at a pivotal point in history.
The other anchor of Crazy Dancing Days is the movement of time itself: life, love, loss, memory. The title track opens the CD and takes us back to London, to the music scene and the streets and the clubs, in the late 1960s. Being of that age myself, the song hit me right where I live, because while I was on the other side of the Atlantic, we were doing the same thing, in Greenwich Village and the Haight Ashbury. As he puts it, it was a revolution, not a craze. The song makes me look at just how much I miss that.
He ends the CD with the heartbreaking exquisite “Small Brass Box”, the story of the lifetime of a couple, three quarters of a century, in a small brass box on a shelf, and then held in his hand. And in between sits “Talking To The Dead (Again)”. This one turns me into a weepy puddle, because it’s something I do on a regular basis. There’s something about finding out that I’m not alone in this, that others do it as well, that gets to me in a way for which I have no language.
Christmas is a solo performer, and the album is him, his acoustic guitar, and a microphone. It manages to be spare and incredibly effective without sounding underproduced. And holy whoa, the man knows his way around a guitar neck. Whether fast and urgent or remote and measured, the guitar work matches the lyrics: less a vehicle for the story than a partner for it. Christmas has his craft down, all of it. Crazy Dancing Days is a rare statement of talent, life experience, storytelling and genuine protest.