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April 27, 2011 at 12:16 PM

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Seattle folk music and hard times: an ongoing love story -- but is it racial?

Posted by Andrew Matson

poverty.jpg
Art via tonykevinjr.bandcamp.com

Seattle folkies are romanticizing hard times these days.

One recent, jarring example is local alt-country singer Tony Kevin, Jr., whose new EP is called "Poverty," and pictures Martin Luther King, Jr. in a mug shot on its cover.

The songs on "Poverty" feature emotionally charged, apparently 100% earnest singing from Kevin, Jr., who bellows "an eye for an eye leaves the world blind" over acoustic guitar on "Mahatma Ghandi," and sings about poverty as a philosophical idea on the EP's two other songs.

Seattle was recently named the fifth whitest big city in America. In an article about that, The Seattle Times wrote about local blues musician Anita White, who is African-American, and has noticed our overriding whiteness means she plays to a lot of white audiences. She says, "You get used to it."

Members of our local hip-hop scene have gotten used to it, and put it in song — as Sir Thomas Gray of Champagne Champagne raps in "Victim of the Modern Age," "Come to grips with the fact / that we seldom rap for blacks."

Oppositely, our city's overriding whiteness allows white musicians to express themselves to mostly white audiences. When that kind of insularity happens — like at churches where everyone is African-American, or in Korea, where everyone is Korean — there's a cultural richness on display that we have a unique opportunity to learn from.

I have to wonder: is this that? And if so, what are we learning?

On both counts, I don't know. But I'm taking notes.

Relevant links:

"Pitchfork pans Seattle's The Head and the Heart: what does it mean?"

"Labor watch: The Head and the Heart versus Fleet Foxes."

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