Indie/AlternativeMusickPsychedelic RockReviews

Country Joe – Vietnam Experience (CD review)

I would never have guessed to be listening to Country Joe McDonald. It’s basically, to quote Phil Collins, against all odds. But here I am, listening to “Vietnam Experience” CD, Joe’s 1985 album. And not only that, I am writing a review of it. 35 years old album? Hell yeah, folks!

I’ve come across Joe McDonald doing research on some unrelated stuff, and it was not the first time I went off tangent and discovering something totally different, but totally fascinating.

It’s a country album, of course, but in part also firmly rooted in the psychedelic rock of Country Joe’s band Country Joe and The Fish. Not that I’ve known that, of course, 1960s and psychedelic stuff is as far from me as, I don’t know, Alaska is. But I do my research, you know…

Most importantly, though – I am not the one to shy away from discovering new stuff (at least, new for me). So when I’ve read about Country Joe, it didn’t take long for the CD to arrive. And this was on the album:

Opening the album is well known tune “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag”, dating well to the beginnings of Country Joe and The Fish, and it would be a great feel-good song, if it’s not for the lyrics’ content – that’s not so funny, as it’s anti-war anthem to boot. Well, this one, I am pretty sure, won’t be a favourite tune for Pentagon guys.

“Foreign Policy Blues” is, well, blues, and one can quickly catch up with the melody, it’s quite familiar, and I don’t think it takes much to like blues. That “bang-bang-bang” intermezzo was quite unexpected and surprising, but musically, it’s just a soul balsam. And with the same powerful anti-war (well, Vietnam war) message, to which the album is dedicated.

“Agent Orange Song” is a sad, sad country ballad about the guy’s experience with Agent Orange and the aftermath of being exposed to this lethal shit. Goosebumps stuff, it’s so beautiful, but also haunting. Hopefully we won’t experience anything like that anymore (although I won’t hold my breath for that, there are quite a lot of stupid people around).

From the sad song to the definitely uplifting mood, “The Girl Next Door (Combat Nurse)” is a hymn to the army combat nurses. Well deserved, I am sure, it’s little pop-ish, but would you object? Obviously, lyrically it’s a part of the narrative, but even musically, it’s country music – the same, but different a little.

“Kiss My Ass”. Not you, and not mine, silly! It’s another hard-hitting anthem from Joe and it will take a few seconds till you start humming along the melody and stomp your foot to the rhythm. Another uplifting tune. 1, 2, 3, 4, we don’t need your fuckin’ war! Right on the mark, Joe! You tell ‘em!

Slowing down with the next track…hush-hush…beware, it’s “Secret Agent”! It’s moving slowly, like the stalled air in the God-forsaken roadhouse. I don’t think you need any explanation anymore, you know. You either like that stuff or you’ve already turned that shit off and sold the CD to Vietcong.

The recording of a chat between veterans starts the “Vietnam Veteran Still Alive” song, which is a reminiscence of – guess who? – Vietnam veteran. All the experiences of the ordinary soldiers spelled out, the stuff I know only from war movies, but those are very real and painful experiences and memories, indeed.

Oh, and if you think Vietnam was a wonderful experience, Joe will shut you up with “Vietnam Never Again”. Do you need anything more to get your perspective corrected? This one is, again, a modern sounding take on country, and I appreciate the variability of this record, as it keeps the listeners interested. At least it’s working for me, so that’s that. My opinion totally for what it’s worth.

With the next song, it’s “Morning Blues”, albeit without the smell of the napalm. Well, blues is not a “feel merry and happy” music (but I am no expert, so don’t judge me), and this is also a moody ballad with a nice harmonica.

“Welcome Home” sounds like a reggae song! I will repeat myself, but I appreciate the change of styles withing the major country framework. Though, I have to admit, it sounds a little strange, little out of place, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad song.

I’ve had to check the length of the “Vietnam Requiem part I: The Beginning” when I’d listened to it for the first time, to make sure I haven’t missed a break between songs, but nope…this behemoth is really 27:10 long. Over 27 minutes of psychedelic rock, referring back to the beginning of Joe’s prolific career. The nice little jamming morphing into the rhythmic tune by some 2:50 mark, the hypnotic drums strengthened by the bass, with guitar notes running back and forth, trumpet wailing (and I love its part in this song), the atmosphere’s getting hotter and hotter… depending on your preferences, this might be really a highlight of the whole album (then again, it may not). I really like this jam, as I always say, the older I am, the more welcoming of the different genres I am. Try pushing that one on me 25 years ago, lol!

This wonderful album ends up with “Vietnam Requiem part II: The End”, the 7:12 follow up to the first part, just in case you haven’t had enough (my case exactly). Really excellent finish to the excellent record.

I have nothing else to say. I am glad I’ve discovered this. It won’t get lost in my collection, that’s for sure. Thanks, Country Joe!

Rudolf Schütz

A father to two little perpetuum mobiles called kids, Rudolf is a main force behind The Rubber Axe webzine, a bookworm, musick lover and a movie fan - not to mention his virgin forays into the comics and board/card games.

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