has a long tradition as an activist and radical. I've Got to Know
, recorded during the first Gulf War in 1991, is meant to be a rant against war, talking eloquently about the stupidity (and inequity) of killing, through songs and words. Recorded live in the studio in one session, it makes its point wonderfully well, with songs like the unaccompanied "Killing Ground," or the very true "Stupid's Pledge." While he's perhaps not as well-known as Pete Seeger
, say, or Woody Guthrie
, he's long deserved to be, since his songs are the equal of theirs. Like all good folksingers, he's marvelously humorous, but also marvelously wise -- and he puts his money where his mouth is: as he says on this disc, during the war he refused to drive, since his car didn't run on blood. This isn't a man entertaining; this is a man who feels things very deeply -- not only about war (as on "Trooper's Lament" and his very first composition, "Enola Gay," harking back to his own service in Korea), but about the injustices inherent in the American system, although he does find good things in America. In some hands, something as intense and relentless as this could be wearing, but Phillips
knows how to pace things, and how to keep the ear listening. Inevitably, some will violently disagree with what he has to say and sing, and deem it "unpatriotic," but hear it with an open ear. With Phillips
, the human element is even more important than the politics. And this disc is every bit as relevant now as when it was recorded.