Scott Kempner's "Soldier's Home" is rock 'n' roll's most moving antiwar song of the '80s. Against a heartfelt melody, the eloquent narrative describes a Christmas gathering of veterans who curse the lies about the glories of war and pray for peace.
Last night at the Bayou Kempner led his New York City quartet, the Del-Lords, through a majestic arrangement of the song, which highlighted an impressive set by one of America's most promising bands.
Like a New York version of the Blasters, the Del-Lords chewed up rock's roots in rockabilly and rhythm and blues and produced populist originals with an immediate urgency. The band lent its close rapport and sheer physical force to Kempner's fast rockers like "True Love" and "Get Tough." The four lead singers brought out the harmonies on Kempner's grand melodies in anthems like "Heaven" and "Dream Come True."
Though Kempner's strong lead vocals bitterly lamented the homeless and those squeezed by the Reagan administration's economic policies, his songs were redeemed by the optimism of his surging music and lines like "I believe there's better days ahead."
The evening's two welcome surprises were a gospel quartet version of Bruce Springsteen's "Johnny 99" and a folk-rock version of the Rolling Stones' "Salt of the Earth."