Considering the contentious political spirit of the era, it was only a matter of time before politically astute songs of conscience from the Vietnam era (or earlier) were dusted off and tested for resonance in the new social landscape. Eric Andersen, who wrote a few good ones back then — “Violets Of Dawn” and “Thirsty Boots” — was the best pure singer to emerge from the early ’60s Greenwich Village folk heyday; in recent years, especially on 2003′s Beat Avenue, he’s ruminated on the artistic windfall represented by those times.
On The Street Was Always There, Andersen assembles a bit of a class reunion, with Happy Traum, Patrick Sky and the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian on board, covering familiar fare such as Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and Paul Seibel’s “Louise”. Sounding like a weathered T Bone Burnett, Andersen brings a knowing warmth to material by Tim Hardin, Peter La Farge, Buffy Sainte-Marie and others. Pete Kennedy’s luminous guitar provides intuitive, empathetic texture throughout.
Some cuts are more personal than political. Andersen eerily channels Fred Neil’s relaxed timbre on Neil’s “Little Bit Of Rain” and resurrects the unjustly forgotten David Blue on the death rattle that is “These 23 Days In September”, the album’s clear highlight. Nearly as successful, but certainly far more ambitious, is a version of Phil Ochs’ protest anthem “White Boots Marching In A Yellow Land”, contemporized with an extra verse, a bit of hip-hop scratch, and a vocal cameo from Wyclef Jean.
Respecting the timelessness and conscience of these songs, but coaxing them into new contexts, Andersen puts an entirely new twist on the tribute album concept.