The American Pioneer Singers jumped to the forefront in 2013, creating a concept album on the bitter Election campaign of 1864 between George McClellan and Abraham Lincoln. Their narration through American roots music, and its derivatives, of a slice of USA history, was nothing short of revolutionary. Now the American Pioneer Singers combine their collective, tongue-in-cheek lyrical savvy, as well as their vast knowledge of the American musical heritage, to turn out the album The Candidates from New York, a collection of songs inspired by one of the most important moments in American history, the 2016 Presidential Campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
The album pays respect to campaign songs of yesteryear by applying old tunes and themes to the current 2016 Presidential Election. It contains 5 songs pro-Hillary Clinton and 5 songs pro-Donald Trump, as well as one neutral track that takes a sneak at the political system.
It really couldn’t get much fairer than that. The album kicks off with the title track “The Candidates from New York”, which is based on “The Sidewalks of New York” a tune used prominently during Al Smith’s presidential campaign in 1928, and often associated with fairs and carnivals as it is heard on merry-go-rounds across the nation.
Here is a quick synopsis of what’s happening on the tracks to whet your appetite, but you really need to grab the album and page through the accompanying booklet which has a wealth of information on each song and its origins. “Oh that Donald” is to the tune of the Stephen Foster classic “Oh Susanna,” as it goes: “Oh that Donald / what a goofy guy / He won’t be the first business man / to poke out his own eye.” Daniel Emmett’s monumental song, “Dixie’s Land,” is the basis for the subsequent “Hillary’s Land”.
“Kingdom Coming”, used in numerous campaign songs, including for George McClellan in 1864 and Ulysses S. Grant in 1868, covers for “Clinton’s Coming”. In 1844, Whig presidential candidate’s songbook contained a song called “The Clay Girl’s Song” to the tune of the old Irish drinking song “Rosin the Beau,” now the American Pioneer Singers switch it into “The Clinton Girl’s Song”.
“We’ll Give Em Billy” is to the tune of the early 1850’s popular song called “Wait for the Wagon.” And Dan Emmett pops up again with “Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel”, which becomes “Washington is a Hard Road to Travel” – “Hillary will do her best in order to deceive / Washington is a hard road to travel / She’s lied before, and now this is her reprieve / Washington is a hard road to travel, I believe.”
Continuing, the album moves on to “Oh, I’m a Good Old Worker” which is based on the post-Civil war song “Oh I’m a Good Old Rebel”. Then the tune, “John Anderson, My Jo”, a well-known Scottish tune from the 18th century, back’s up “When This Old Hat Was New”. The pro-Trump song, “Trump Trump Trump” finds its inspiration in the George F. Root tune, “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.” The album closes with “Trump’s Hymn” to the tune of “Marines’ Hymn”, the official song of the United States Marine Corp.
This compilation, like any other collection of election-type songs contains lots of humor and criticism, taking a lampooning swipe at the deep seated American political urge toward nostalgia. With sweet melodies, rich harmonies and historically beloved tunes, in support of lyrics that rip away the facade and expose the foundation of often far-fetched promises and sometimes, blatant lies, the American Pioneer Singers forces a confrontation between blind nostalgia and harsh reality, but they do it oh so melodically.
Their songs are a comfort, in that they remind us that the election struggle is not new, that people in every generation face a choice between rhetorical haze and honest clarity. They don’t promise to be the bearers of absolute truths like our cherished candidates often do. They just deliver their messages in full song, which we’re all allowed to decipher with our own thinking caps on.
All songs considered, what we get from the American Pioneer Singers, on “The Candidates from New York”, besides the political satire, is a delicious reworking of some historical American tunes – arranged, recorded and performed with their usual earnest passion. You may rightfully be divided on election-day, but my advice is to unite in grabbing a copy of this savvily done album…before the walls go up and the roofs come down!