Pete Kronowitt: September 2020 Artist of the Month

Pete Kronowitt

Do Something Now

Mean Bean Records



[Please note: This album has just been released, so check YouTube to see if new songs have been added.]


If you’ve been wondering where all the great protest singers are now that Pete Seeger and Utah Phillips have joined Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs in the Great Beyond, the answer is that they’re out there; you’re just no looking in the right places. Take New Jersey-born, Florida-raised, and San Francisco based Pete Kronowitt, for example. His 5th album Do Something Now tells you where he’s coming from. It is a dozen tracks that pull few punches.


I used to chat with Utah Phillips (1935-2008) on a regular basis, and he’d occasionally rail against “pretty” protest songs. He was fond of saying, “There’s a world of difference between ‘How many seas must a white dove sail’ and ‘Dump the bosses off your back.’” That was his way of saying that the best call-to-action songs are short on poetry and long on getting to the heart of things. Kronowitt is in that wheelhouse. The title track appears twice–as a stripped-down acoustic version and as one with a band–and I recommend the sparer of the two. It’s a relatable singalong tune that doesn’t beg, rather tells us in no uncertain language, “Don’t just bitch and moan/Time to get on the phone.” If that’s too subtle, the last line is, “Time to get your ass in gear.”


This might suggest that Kronowitt is an angry man. He is to some extent. “Are We Great Yet” is a folk-rock takedown of the current Commander in Thief, and Kronowitt isn’t afraid to ask, “Lock a kid up in a cage, is this what we’ve become?” Nor does he put on kid gloves when he inhabits Trump’s dark soul and sings, “Build a wall/When they yell/Kill them all.” For the most part, though, Kronowitt wants us first to think and then to act, rather than hitting the streets in a lather without a plan. There are two environmentally themed songs, “Ladybugs,” with its wistful Western feel; and “Roly Poly,” another folk-rocker that asks us to imagine  a world without animals small and large: from bees and caterpillars to polar bears.


When he does implore, it’s usually to center us toward things that should matter more than they often do. “Stay Safe,” for example is Kronowitt’s take on COVID. Like a good folk song, it opts for simple lyrics to remind us we can find solace and renewal in loved ones. A sample lyric for dealing with a heartless world runs, “When the world is a little bit colder/You can be a blanket for me.” Music can also be a balm, a theme he explores in “Big Ole Stick of Wood.” As the title infers, this one is offered up country style, complete with some standup bass from John David Coppola and pedal steel from Tim Marcus. Just to mix things a bit more, there’s a Tejano feel to “You Never Ever Never Know.”


Kronowitt and Coppolla often perform together, with percussionist Darian Gray riding shotgun. Justin Kohlberg adds electric guitar and additional acoustic work on the album. Most listeners, though, will be instantly drawn to the gorgeous harmony vocals of Veronica Maund. I emphasize once again, though, that social change music is most effective when the message, not production, is at the fore. Were I in a mood to be critical, I’d note that Kronowitt’s voice is occasionally obscured when there’s too much instrumentation. I’m inclined, though, to give him a free ride. He is a founder of the Face the Music Collective, a coalition of likeminded activist artists that includes folks who have been reviewed on this blog: Olivia Frances, the incomparable Eliza Gilkyson, and The Nields, the pride of Northampton, Massachusetts. Plus, Pete Kronowitt gives us just what we need as November 4 approaches: a swift kick in the pants.


Rob Weir



1 comment:

Pete Kronowitt said...

Just wanted to thank you Rob. I should have made this comment earlier but was a bit busy doing online and live shows trying to make a little difference. Love this review.