By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
The May Day Orchestra is a super-group of sorts: The quintet's lineup contains Tim Rakel and Joey Gavin (formerly of Bad Folk), Brien Seyle and Matt Pace (The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra) and Theodore's JJ Hamon. May Day plays roughshod folk tunes with a deliberately Communist bent, in keeping with the band's name. Despite the presence of some of the local rock and folk scenes' most inventive musicians, the arrangements on the vinyl-only May Day, or Songs for Lucy Parsons are mostly spare and stark, moving between low-slung ballads and foot-stomping fightin' songs. The slow-pulsing drone of the eight-minute opener "Cause for Alarm" feels static and overlong, though the pivot-point trumpet and trombone flourishes, along with Seyle's twang-laden fiddle, gives the song a much-needed harmonic handhold. The band perfects this formula of concrete-fisted guitar strums and solemn brass-and-string accompaniment on the excellent "Death Letter," which sounds like an experimental castoff from Uncle Tupelo's March 16-20, 1992.
Rakel's ragged, urgent delivery on a song like the galloping "Sentence (This Land Is Not Free)" conveys equal parts indignation and disgust on behalf of these hard-laboring, long-suffering narrators. And with the somewhat-recent breakup of Bad Folk, it's nice to have a new home for Rakel's alt-country whirlwinds and solemn dirges. But ultimately it's hard to figure out the aim of these songs about workers, robber barons and the means of production: They are neither uplifting like protest songs, nor galvanizing like politically charged punk. It's well to remember that Billy Bragg, the world's finest socialist pop star, got a lot more interesting when he stopped singing exclusively about the power of the unions and engaged the human heart.
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