Artist: Joel Rafael
Label: Inside Recordings
Release Date: 04/14/2015
An heir to Woody Guthrie’s throne, Joel Rafael sings not only of social change and injustice, but of love and loss. Baladista, his ninth and most personal album, speaks more of his own personal history than humanity’s transgressions, although he does include “El Bracero,” a true tale of unheralded Mexican migrant workers who helped feed our country while American men went off to fight World War II.
The album’s opener, “She Had to Go,” recalls a romance which began in school, which for Rafael, frankly, was some time ago, but he brings a freshness and universality to a heartfelt song about “the one that got away.” He follows that up with another direct, heart-to-heart talk all but the luckiest in love can relate to, “Love’s First Lesson” (is a broken heart), which he co-wrote with the Eagles’ songwriter Jack Tempchin.
Rafael has paired excellent videos to each of the songs on the album, and has released them one-by-one. “Old Portland Town” retells the story of his arrest following a protest and how his wife, Lauren, bailed him out, and is a particularly effective visual story. At least two songs deal with Rafael’s own mortality. “When I Go” and “Thanks for the Smiles” both reflect Rafael’s positive attitude—refreshingly, more gratitude than regret.
Rafael includes only one cover on the album, Hedy West’s “500 Miles,” and not only does he do a credible job on that classic, Rafael sings verses not found on the Peter, Paul and Mary version we all know so well. The album, released on Jackson Browne’s label, has an attractive three-fold package which includes excellent photography and all song lyrics. The album package, the music and the videos together make a home run for an American classic.
– Suzanne Cadgène