Start with Woody Guthrie, go toward Ramblin’ Jack Elliott too. Then move to the ’60s where originally you’d explore Bob Dylan, but it’s really Phil Ochs & at times Joan Baez who took up that labor hammer in song. Then as time passed the most likely labor-singer would be Billy Bragg. Though not a young troubadour today, West Virginia’s Tom Breiding is regarded as one of the best labor singers in the United States by impressionable sources.
What’s peculiar is that most labor-singers are in a genre with protest singers (Liberal group through the decades). However, Tom sings for mine workers, laborers, for the Unions. So, curiously, in 2020, that’s something a Conservative President seems to be trying to keep alive. The shoe’s on the other foot. (There’s a good labor song title for you).
Tom’s latest LP Love Commits Me Here, (AmeriSon Records) dropped Jan. 7. What sets him aside is that he doesn’t focus solely on the plight of mine workers but also the history of female workers, past labor strikes, restoring health care for retirees, immigrants, floods, senseless violence, trials & tribulations — that continue at present. But Tom doesn’t preach & this is important.
The songs are simplistic, with vocals that recall Hamilton Camp, Burl Ives, Will Geer, David Blue, early Gordon Lightfoot, Victor Jara & Oscar Brand. Tom carefully constructs each with as much care as Tim Hardin, Leonard Cohen & early Dylan. He doesn’t paint his lyrics in hard-accusatory lines. But with simple points of logic that bring the seriousness to light.
“The Flood,” is driven by banjo but the melody unfolds with strength. “Holiday,” is a polished short-story lyric. The acoustic guitar brightens the words & Tom sings with little anger or disdain. He almost portrays his lyric as Norman Rockwell would his portraits.
Few songs are hard-assed protests but in their lone beauty shine on the difficulties, tragedies, blood, sweat & tears that is — after all — life.
I like Tom’s style; he comes across with his music as a likable man. I’m often amazed at how a spare tune with little instrumentation can be so forceful in its message rather than bombastic. It all comes down to one simple comparison my son has said: “it’s old man strength dad.” He doesn’t know where it comes from when some old fragile man shakes his hand like a vice – and my son is over 250 lbs. of muscle. “Far Away,” is an old man’s strength. It has stamina — that’s what makes it beautiful.
With “Mama K” vocally, Tom brings out his inner-Townes van Zandt. Gary Jacob’s’ steel guitar infuses the feel. “My Cares & Woes,” dips a finger into Mickey Newbury tradition with a touch of Guy Clark. Libby Eddy (fiddle) & the Soulful Horns provide the backup musicianship on the 10-track, 40-minute LP.
Produced by Daniel Marcus (lead guitar) & Tom (acoustic) in Pittsburg, PA.
Available at CD Bab and: https://www.tombreiding.com/