David Serby – Poor Man’s Poem
Poor Mans Poem
Emotional Contemporary Folk songs set in the Old West.
Yet again an album from someone quite unknown to me has blown my socks off!
David Serby and his regular band Dirt Poor Folklore have been around for a few years now and released three albums which have kept them on the Honky Tonk circuit in the Midwest.
For whatever reason Selby felt he needed to write about the current woes of the World – poverty, war, unemployment, suicide, gangs, teenage pregnancy et al, but didn’t feel comfortable writing ‘angry/protest’ songs. After having something of an epiphany he decided to set the songs in the days of the Old West and sing them in the first person narrative to prove that that nothing changes but time itself.
Every song tells a fascinating tale and some have the feel of timeless classics that you’ve grown up listening to. The opening mandolin intro on title track Poor Mans Poem stopped me in my tracks and the song itself has hints of Appalachian Bluegrass to it, but the track is much deeper and fresher than that as Serby sets his tale of Banks going bust and causing a War in the time of the Civil War….do you see where this is going?
I Just Stole Back What Was Mine is an account of an honest man who has to leave home to seek his fortune. He eventually gets cheated by his employer and decides to steal his money back; but gets caught and jailed. This references Wells Fargo and Gold mines but you can substitute just about any form of employment to get the message.
The tearful lament Watch Over Her Baby is my favourite song here; as it tells the tale of a teenage girl who is left with a baby and can’t handle the pressure but she wants a better life for her baby. Sadly she can only think of one way to make that happen. If you have a heart; this song will break it.
Evil Men which ends the album; is technically about lawless cowboys but could be about Chicago gangsters in the 20’s or Gangbangers in 2011…..it’s simply brilliant.
Throughout POOR MANS POEM there are echoes of Tom Russell, Dave Alvin and even last years Howe Gelb album but David Serby takes all of his influences and twists them inside out until he has created his very own style.
In its’ own way POOR MANS POEM is something of a minor masterpiece.
This review first appeared in Maverick magazine UK