5. Ben Jelen
I saw Ben play live for the first time at the Replay store during their Earth Day party. His dreamy piano-playing and sweet nature somehow makes his call-to-action on environmental issues an easy pill to swallow. Easy on the eyes as much as on the ears, the young musician's songs often share a central theme: Our world is in flux and we need to wake up and do something--as individuals, as communities, and as a united planet.
His latest album "Ex-Sensitive" include great songs like, "Wreckage," "Pulse," and "Where Do We Go"--all are head-bobbing, danceable tunes that are easy to jam out to while giving your State Representative a piece of your mind about the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act and Green Jobs bills. Wreckage, a deeply penetrating song with a dark-but-uplifting melody, is actually an achy love song to the earth, written in response to our warming globe:
"I can feel the sunrise
Barely breaking through the trees
I don't want to miss you
I don't want you missing me,"
According to Jelen's Myspace page, "The time Jelen spent working on humanitarian causes profoundly influenced Ex-Sensitive. "I am incapable of ignoring what's going on around me," he admits. "World events often affect me as much as personal ones." In recent years, he found time to work with the Natural Resources Defense Council, tour extensively for Rock the Vote and Live for Darfur, donate charity tracks to WasteNotMusic.com, Amnesty International, and Tori Amos' RAINN, march against global warming, share the stage with Wyclef Jean, Marc Anthony, Moby, Maroon 5, and Rufus Wainwright at benefit concerts across the US, establish the Ben Jelen Foundation for the Environment, protest the war, and do work with the United Nations."
4. The Eagles
The iconic rock band of the 70s is now on their Long Road Out of Eden Tour which I recently saw in New York this week. If you've been a devout fan and haven't sampled the album, I suggest picking it up because it's vintage Eagles. Of course you won't be able to find it in regular music outlets: The crew decided to give a big F*ck you to the music industry, (which has notoriously been taking advantage of artists from its inception), and distributed their music directly through Wal-Mart and SAMS Club. This has allowed them to sell the CD cheaper and pass the savings onto their valued listeners while having the comfort of knowing they (The Eagles) weren't being taken advantage of. It served them well I suppose because their album debuted at No. 1 in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, and Norway.
Rolling Stones recently put the foursome on their cover--with Henley (http://www.donhenley.com) out in front. The fearless frontman, who counts Wendell Berry and Thoreau as some of his favorite writers, practices a little civil disobedience himself--both lyrically and in life. Henley has helped set up the Walden Woods Project and Institute as well as the preservation of Caddo Lake, a rich wetland between the Texas and Louisiana border. He is almost always responsible for the songs with political, social, and environmental themes. "Long Road out of Eden," the song for which the album is named for, may not be the most striking song on the album, but is a strong commentary to our times. "It's about the war and it's also about the human condition," Henley tells Billboard. "The point of the song is [that] we may think we are civilized, but we have a ways to go yet."
Other songs on the album include my favorite, "Waiting in the Weeds" and others like "Frail Grasp of the Big Picture," "Do Something," "Busy Being Fabulous," and the opening ballad, "No More Walks in the Woods," the latter which reminds me of a follow-up track to Henley's, "Goodbye to a River" on his Inside Job CD, which came out in 2000.
If you have some time and can pony up some dough, head over to one of the many venues that The Eagles will be playing at. Though the tickets may be a little on the expensive side for some, it's well worth it. The show lasts for at least 3 hours, is equipped with a synchronized video and lights show, and a fine mix of new and old Eagles.
3. WyClef Jean
From Haiti and back again, WyClef shows that you should never forget where we come from. His new charity, "Together for Haiti," (Kombit Pou Ayiti)--a collaboration of his Yéle Haiti Foundation and the World Food Program and Pan American Development Foundation--will help provide relief effort and skills to aid the most marginalized peoples on the planet. Skyrocketing food prices have resulted in riots throughout Haiti. "Haitian people aren't a group of people who want handouts," Jean said to The Daily News, stressing the importance of teaching better farming techniques to increase crop yield. According to recent reports, "Together for Haiti" has raised $3 million to cover the first six months of operation. The goal is to raise $10 million by the end of 2008 and an additional $48 million over two years.
Clef's songs including, "Fast Car," "Riot," "Sweetest Girl," "Heavens in New York," and "Slow Down" are all peppered with Clef's rich social commentary. In "Slow Down," Clef and chorus sing a hand-waving, car-pumping melody:
"But we live for war
(You know I got that shot in the Chevy what it is?)
We ain't start the wire taps down in Baltimore
(But I still slangin' bricks where I live)...
Evil lurks in the heavenly disguise
(Tryin' to get the ruler all I need is about a mil)
I seen two bird crash into two New York Giants
(Bush still lyin,' he don' never keep it real)...
Where'd the hope go, Where'd the hope
(I don't know)
I see the whole world turn into a warzone
Ain't no love in the city keep your vest on
(G' that right)
Guns 'n roses welcome to the jungle..."
You can almost see Clef's faithful music-heads jamming to his tunes on their iPods and his people in the dusty roads of Haiti blasting his tunes in a boom-box escape, hanging on to his every word like a new street religion. With Clef, a powerhouse in the music industry, he is no doubt set to move his followers into grassroots action. After all, it's clear that his music is and always will be--music of the people.
2. Hindu Kush
Lead singer and guitarist, Elijah Behar, 18, belts out a politically-charged garage rock sound in "Blood for Oil"--a poignant call for action...Behar's voice as well as his lyrical insights into the Iraq War are hauntingly mature. That combined with the band's rich, earthy old school rock vibe gives Hindu Kush a tone reminiscent of The Doors. Logan Huguency's, 21, rat-tat-tat drums mirror vintage army beats, while Nathaniel Harnett, 20, on bass and Pablo Esquer, 20, on violin serve up a moving performance beneath Behar's words:
"All our lives -
Too many lies,
Too many have died -
For one man's pride.
But hope lies still
Inside our minds.
We have to try
To change our ways
But it'd hard
When we are spoiled.
Blood for oil,
Spilled on desert soil.
I am not proud to live free."
"Blood for Oil's" graphic, gut-wrenching video would move anyone, especially those of us who have lost loved ones to the war. It's not only saturated with images of our troops, but the inhuman torture of Iraqis--something that would be considered too fuc*ing real for the daily news, but all too real for those of us who carry the burden of our nation's actions.
* Related Notes:
The Real Teenage Angst Hindu Kush's"Blood for Oil" is a deep and impassioned representation of the impatience and fervent action of my generation. In November 2007, Energy Action (http://www.energyaction.net)--the largest youth movement united to solve climate change--organized Power Shift on Capitol Hill. There 6,000 young citizens were educated and trained to lobby their governments to enact strong climate change legislation. Nancy Pelosi commended the "relentless advocacy, leadership, and the impatience of youth," which has helped aid 600 universities to go carbon neutral, a little known fact to mainstream press. Pelosi went onto say that, "Young people are intensely engaged in dialogue in real time in ways technologically unthought-of previously...It is words not weaponry [that] are the tools of the next generation."... OUR generation.
1. Green Owl Records
Fresh artists with a fresh perspective--that is exactly what Green Owl Records, an independent New York-based label is all about. Top-notch artists with a fresh music perspective and environmental responsible behavior are at the core of the label's business practice. The operation is run by musicians Ben Brewer (The Appletrees, The Exit (former band), and Bermuda), Elenike Abreu (The Appletrees), and Stephen Glicken. They help all their artists create their paper and CD packaging with 100% post-consumer paper; convert their tour buses to biodiesel; and help them make better choices when it comes to tee-shirt printing and carbon offsetting. Green Owl recently partnered with Warner Brothers on the release of the Live Earth DVD/CD, as well as the theatrical release of the feature film Everything's Cool: A Toxic Comedy About Global Warming. Their latest venture, however, is perhaps the most exciting: the launch of The Green Owl Comp: A Benefit for the Energy Action Coalition, available on Amazon.com and Whole Foods outlets. Disc 1 features 16 songs, including a live version of Muse's epic "Knight of Cydonia," Feist's "Honey Honey," The Apple Tree's folksy and melodic tune, "Look Up to the Sky," and Of Montreal's lullaby-sweet song "Feminine Effects." Disc 2 features some bonus tracks, music videos, and an interview/feature with Energy Action Co-founder, Billy Parish, with highlights from the Power Shift Climate Conference.
Co-founder of Green Owl Records, Stephen Glicken, says they'll be signing four fresh new artists this year. "Our artists aren't all singing about the environment," he says. "Their images are a bit divested but the practices are sustainable. I think music can be used for helping change people's perceptions. People listen to their favorite artists more than they listen to anyone else," he tells me over a local, organic meal at Urban Rustic in Greenpoint (Brooklyn).
"It really helps put it [the environment] in a more digestible place. It's not some fringe, unsettled idea any longer. Debate is over. This is what is going down. People have to change."
* Related Notes:
On the Road Even though American's drove an estimated 4.3 percent less (that's 11 billion fewer miles) this March 2008 compared to March 2007, we are still very mobile. Tune into "Zip Code Engine" on the Green Owl Records website, where you can find all the bio-diesel fill-up stations around the U.S., and calculate your carbon footprint in their "Carbon Calculator."
"We'll be launching a web-based living and traveling tool," says Stephen. "It's hard to travel and live sustainably. We want to make it easy for everyone, including our bands. Later this year, we'll be launching a more robust zip code engine where you can find biofuel fill-up stations, grassroots efforts in your area, green utilities where you can sign up for green energy, and vegan, vegetarian, and organic restaurants. So if you know you're going to Point A to Point B and you're vegan and drive a biodiesel car, the tool will map out the best route for you to fill up--both on food and fuel." Pretty sweet, right?