“We need more messages of positivity, but we also shouldn’t be afraid to give a little dose of tough love here and there, too,” preaches the Rev. Shawn Amos, calling up from Los Angeles to talk about his music, his new songs, and his ever-deepening view of the world we live in. An accomplished musician and producer, Amos — who added the “Rev.” part of his name a few years ago, when he began to inject more blues music into his repertoire — will be bringing his band to Petaluma on Friday, Feb. 16, as part of a national tour to promote his latest CD, “The Rev. Shawn Amos Breaks It Down.”
“I’m a big fan of Petaluma and Sonoma County,” notes Amos, whose father was “Famous Amos,” the cookie company founder and pop cultural icon. The younger Amos, in addition to being a sought-after producer, is the host of the YouTube series “Kitchen Table Blues.”
A frequent band-on-tour visitor to these parts, Amos last visited Petaluma in spring of 2017, dropping into the Big Easy for two back-to-back nights. This time, he’ll be performing at the Mystic Theatre, where he plans to mix up songs from his past albums, including the popular “The Rev. Shawn Amos Loves You,” with songs from the new one, which blends fresh interpretations of older songs with brand new tunes Amos has labeled “21st Century Freedom Songs.
“The new CD isn’t a departure so much as it’s a continuation of the journey I am on,” Amos explains. “But certainly, it is more ‘of the time,’ more reflective of the things that are going on in the world, than what I’ve written and recorded before. What I’ve done in the past has been more like celebrations of bygone eras, or perhaps internal conversations, more than what the new CD has, which are songs that so obviously want to say something about where we are at. In that sense, I suppose it is a little bit of new turf for me.”
In addition to original songs like the hauntingly acapella “Uncle Tom’s Prayer,” the effective, emotionally soaring “Does My Life Matter?” and the powerful “2017” – a catchy, funk-tinged anthem with the rhythmically insistent refrain, “We have to open up our hearts and brains” – the frequently danceable album also includes a rich and soulful, organ-driven, swaying-in-the-pews take on Nick Lowe’s iconic “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?” and a slinky and sultry, unexpectedly powerful cover of David Bowie’s “Jean Genie,” the lyrics of which — “he loves to be loved, yes he loves to be loved” — have taken on an errie, decidedly Trump-esque veneer.
The album’s first release was the single “(We’ve Got To) Come Together,” a big, brassy, joyous call for unity and love in difficult times.
“That is the message,” Amos says. “I don’t think anything is gained by negativity. There’s enough of that being thrown around by folks who are in loftier positions than me. There’s a line in that song that quotes Martin Luther King Jr. It says, ‘I’m sticking with love, because hate is too big a burden to bear.’ I believe that. I think the way to move forward, to create change, to move us all into the light, is to remind ourselves of our commonality, and our humanity, and why we are better off being united as opposed to poking our fingers in each other’s eyes all the time.”
That conviction, he explains, is part of the motivation for the new album’s “Freedom Suite,” a trio of songs inspired by those early musicians who used music as a call for justice and equality in the fifties and sixties.
“We were touring in the South last year,” he says, “and we were listening to a lot of those old ‘freedom songs,’ songs by the Staples Singers, and songs by Bob Dylan, and even stuff from the 70s, songs by Curtiss Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. Those were songs born out of protest, but they were never angry. It was music that always called out to our higher angels.”
Those songs were very much in Amos’ mind as he began writing the new album. With so much division and blame so prominent on social media and beyond, Amos knows that there are many who might question whether a simple song about love and unity can do anything real to affect change.
“That’s a fair question,” he allows. “We live in a world where there is so much ugliness that can be captured and broadcast around the world so easily. We see so much stuff, good and bad, more than we’ve ever seen before. We see all of these dramatic images, people carrying tiki torches or whatever, but I still believe that there are more good-hearted people out there than not. We can ultimately get past the fear we feel from those ugly images, and just fight for change. That’s all we can do, right? Keep up the movement toward change. That’s what my music is all about, avoiding cynicism and embracing the positive.”
To that end, Amos says, there is nothing frivolous in giving people something to dance to, even in times of trouble and loss.
“Joy is joy, man,” he says. “We need joy. We need relief from the things that want to bring us down. Dancing and singing gives us comfort, and gives us hope, and charges us up to go back out and keep going. If people walk into my shows feeling beat up, and they leave having been happy and hopeful for a few hours, then I consider it a privilege and an honor to have been part of that.”
(Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org)