ADEEM THE ARTIST – White Trash Revelry (Four Quarters Records)

White Trash RevelryBorn Adem Bingham, and sometimes known as Adeem Maria, Adeem the Artist is a blue-collar, pansexual, non-binary North Carolina-born twangy-voiced singer-songwriter now based in Eastern Tennessee whose influences include the comedian Andy Kaufman alongside the likes of John Prine and Blind Boy Fuller, their songs often addressing what it means to be in and of the American South.

Pedal steel keening, White Trash Revelry opens with ‘Carolina’, the opening lines recalling how they were the result of a one night stand (“I started out as a light in my father’s eyes at a Texaco/Mama was working overnights on Sam Wilson Road/She was a madcap, teenage runaway/A year past graduation/She was new in town and he was burning down/The place with infatuation”), and, looking back to when their father’s job relocated them to Syracuse (“From the birth canal to the whistle of emergency sirens”), going on to talk of the struggle in, with “An American inheritance of trauma and depression”, trying to find their identity as a redneck in New York (“You’ve got a lot of skins to wear as you try to figure out who you are/And it don’t matter what people say/Don’t expect them to understand /Ain’t nobody no one else’s mistake/Life is not always the things you plan/Some of us have childhoods that aren’t poems on sight”).

Accompanied by piano, ‘For Judas’ stems from wandering around Minneapolis while there for a gig and plays out a love story (“He had short, neat curls that were shadow black/And I was fumbling around with the weather app/Wondering if he could ever love me …I caught an urge & the nerve to take his hand in mine/And if it didn’t rain at the perfect time/It’s probable we wouldn’t have kissed”) set to a snapshot of the NorthEast Arts District  “full of college age women in drag/Yeah they’re all wearing costumes and they all look like children/And they’re blowing us kisses as they pass”, inevitably ending, as the title suggests,  with a betrayal (“You sold me out for some pieces of silver” but also a sense of  exultation (“still I loved the feel of your lips/And I never wanted more than this: to kiss you in public/To openly say that I loved it”).

A guitar slinging, drums driving rocker with Tom Petty colours, ‘Heritage Of Arrogance’ speaks about growing up in a state where rebel flags still lined the streets and how “Mom and Dad tried to teach me wrong from right/But their compasses were bad (I saw Rodney King on the TV screen/Turn slowly into Trayvon/I heard my parents make excuses/For the man who fired the gun”), recalling a memory of a seeing “the Klan once with a child’s eyes/Down the street where I would play/And angry Black people on the other side of the road with clenched fists raised” and being told they were “Just two sides of a coin, the Klan and the APC/That’s the kind of bullshit that our daddies said to you and me”. That, in turn, prompts questioning the received wisdom and trying to set it right: “Trying to keep myself from dismissing/Perspectives that I struggle to relate with/I been learning our true history and I hate it /Two sides of a coin implies there ain’t no better side/It says racism and justice are equally justified… I mean, I never worked the auction block or joined the Christian Knights/Never called someone a racial epithet at a traffic light/And I know we never asked to be born white/We were not taught the world was so goddamn unjust but it’s on us to make it right”.

A twangy country number with hints of Guy Clark,  written after their ‘Aunt’ Peggie’s passing, ‘Painkillers & Magic’ is another memory of growing up and going to churches with their mother and ‘aunts’, recalling all the “Speaking in tongues of angels” and prayers for the fallen (“Marty’s on the drink again/We reach out towards him from the sanctuary/Some folks sing and shout/And the room gets loud until it all sounds scary”), the title capturing the “coalescing of holiness & horror/Addiction, loss, & blessing”, the “methamphetamines & spiritual madness” of the “white trash revelry”.

The rockabilly energetic ‘Run This Town’ turns the focus to local politics and the invidious choice between, as they puts it in the notes, having “to choose between a Democrat from the landlord class who is more interested in their investments than the voices of the marginalized or a Democrat who wants to annihilate us”. Or, as the song puts it “we’re gonna run this town into the goddamn ground but we’re gonna run it”.

Bringing on the fiddle and plunging into country waters, ‘Baptized In Well Spirits’ takes its cue from Jesus turning water into wine and the connection between turning to booze and turning to God (“My daddy kept his hope in a reservoir/Whiskey distilled in a mason jar”) as they recalls how at 16  he could walk the line, “ I finally figured out/There was one way to be free/I could follow my heart to heaven/The wayward down to hell/Or tuck my way into some middle ground/Between my whiskey jar and the heart of God/There’s a simple understanding: I’ll be drinking when I’m happy & praying when I’m sad”.

Simply fingerpicked, ‘Middle Of A Heart’ is a folksy talking blues about rites of passage in the American South (“Daddy’s gonna buy me a brand new gun/Show me how to clean it in the yard/Papaw says he can’t wait to see me fire with that steady arm/A couple hours of waiting and some heavy concentration,/Put a bullet through the middle of a heart/Everybody’s gonna be so glad to see the freezer full of fresh deer meat/Mama’s gonna be so proud of me when we get back to the farm”), the imagery taking on a more metaphorical meaning as the song develops to explore coping mechanisms  (“Nights get longer/Days get hard/I learn to put a bullet through the middle of a heart”), love (“I felt the violent hit of her passionate kiss/Like a bullet through the middle of a heart”) and the cost of of joining the army to make your country proud (“I didn’t have a grudge to bear with any of the people there/But I came home haunted by the lives my duty cost/I felt the bullets tip against my rib/And put a bullet through the middle of a heart”) ending with has a feeling of PTSD suicide (“Everybody’s gonna be so sad to see that flag disappear into the earth with me/Mama, do you think you still believe I’m gonna see the face of God?”).

Following that, a little light relief is needed, served up with the fiddle-driven redneck barroom stomping ‘Going To Hell’ in the spirit of the (namechecked) Charlie Daniels as they asks “Do you really wanna go to heaven/When we get this rapture started?/Or do you want to go to hell, children/With Adeem the Artist?” because while “They play country songs in heaven/But in hell, they play ‘em loud”. Also referencing Robert Johnson and drawing on the famous myth, they also slips in a line about cultural appropriation in “white men would rather give the devil praise/Than acknowledge a black man’s worth”.

Taken at a lazing, swampy, banjo-bedecked rhythm, ‘Rednecks And Unread Hicks’ is a playful number about an emerging new liberal, woke sensibility in the South (“Everybody gather round, we got another one here/It’s got the pronouns listed, it’s a genuine queer /Singing “Black Lives Matter” to a Jimmie Rodgers melody, y’all”)  with “us rednecks & unread hicks screaming, ‘Free Palestine!’”, “a backyard with two wedding gowns” and “a trans femme trans am mandolin riff/A firebird, registered socialist/But she’ll still out drink you on a Tennessee Saturday Night- from an old fruit jar”.

Pedal steel is back in the spotlight alongside mandolin with ‘Books & Records’,  a musically upbeat number but with a lyric that speaks of how economic downturns lead to folk having to pawn their heritage (“We’ve been selling off our books and records, instruments our grandparents played”) to just survive  (“For the last two years the rent keeps getting higher and our neighbors all have cars we can’t afford/I’m working two jobs now and, brother, I stay tired/but we could always stand to make a little more”), clinging to the hope that “we’re gonna buy them back some day”.

White Trash Revelry ends with ‘My America’ , a song written in response to Aaron Lewis’s ‘Am I The Only One?’, a  song about being an American and lamenting “Watchin’ the threads of Old Glory come undone”, which Adeem felt championed fear in adopting the high moral ground and triggering knee jerk reactions,  and lacked perspective and compassion. As such it’s worth presenting the lyrics in full as, accompanied by simple acoustic guitar and channelling John Prine, Adeem sings:

Things are not the way that I remember
The world around me changes every day
I don’t recognize the person standing in my mirror
Looking older now and angry and afraid

Do the places I found meaning still mean anything at all?
Do the values I’ve upheld hold any value now?
I am worried my America will die when I do
And there won’t be nothing left of me when I am not around.

When I was young, we didn’t have the internet
Or corporations censoring our words
I sit and scroll at night in the soft, blue cell phone light
As the lines that divide fiction from reality are blurred 

I work too many hours to research everything
There’s just so many minutes of the day
I’m wary of the jokers and the koolaid dipped joint smokers
Hell, you can’t believe a single thing they say

And the media wants money more than telling me the truth
Journalists farming clicks with shock headlines
I am worried for my children, though I don’t know how to tell them
And what this world will look like when my America has died?

And you can call me a hypocrite,
Or a white supremacist, whatever helps you sleep
But I don’t where I fit into this,
Unless I now decide to relearn everything?

Do the places I found meaning still mean anything at all?
Do the values I’ve upheld hold any value now?
I am worried and afraid in a myriad of ways
And I want to see the future but I don’t know how

We all could do with some of their white trash around here.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.adeemtheartist.com

‘Run This Town’ – official video:

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