"Raise Your Voice"
"Songs for the Earth: A Tribute to Rachel Carson"
For more than 30 years, Magpie duo Terry Leonino and Greg Artzner have justified their moniker by bringing bright, borrowed treasures into their nest. But they're not capricious collectors: Everything they gather is put into service of the art, usually of a message as well. On their 10th CD, "Raise Your Voice," they're proud to mock their critics with the sneering blues of "Too Political," in which a promoter demands: "Can't you just play some country, jazz or blues?"
Well, yes, they can. Artzner and Leonino's affinity for '30s music shines on Connee Boswell's "Me Minus You," as does Akira Otsuka's lively mandolin. "Underneath the Arches," another song from the same era, couches its sadness about poverty in a bravely blithe melody.
"When you learn a song you've got a friend for life," Artzner croons in Bryan Bowers's "Friend for Life," and Magpie seeks even more friends with original compositions. The title track was written as a rallying cry against the 2003 Iraq invasion, and its message is pretty straightforward. More intriguing is the couple's musical setting for Woody Guthrie's lyric "This Morning I Am Born Again"; it boasts one of those mid-tempo 1960s-style melodies that can be sung out heartily, as Artzner proves here, but carries a melancholy that would make it work equally well if whispered.
It's the subtlety of Magpie's approach that sets them apart from other musical social-justice crusaders. The members wield the folk tropes well -- the long-held vowels, the tremolo. Leonino, in particular, has a dry, witty edge to her voice that lightens the mood. Artzner sounds a good bit like John Denver, not the over-the-hill pop star who lent his voice to the treacle of later years, but the troubadour who first joined the Chad Mitchell Trio.
Leonino and Artzner join a bevy of other conscious folk artists on "Songs for the Earth: A Tribute to Rachel Carson." Opening with Pete Seeger's ramble through a polluted landscape in "My Dirty Stream," this collection of 17 songs, conceptualized by Magpie and benefiting environmental efforts through the Rachel Carson Council and Musicians United to Sustain the Environment, offers a surprising range of approaches within the folk idiom. Bill Oliver's "Queen Invicta" is an arch, somewhat hokey ballad about a fire ant; by contrast, Kat Eggleston's lovely "Go to the Water" aims for the primal need to seek solace in nature. Casey Neill creates earthshaking bluegrass for "Hallowed Be Thy Ground," while Tom Paxton observes pithily, "When It's Gone, It's Gone." Tish Hinojosa, Gordon Bok and Emma's Revolution are among the other musicians who lend their talents to this collection, which closes with Carson's own words about the controversy surrounding her 1962 call to action, "Silent Spring." "Is industry becoming a screen through which facts must be filtered?" she wonders. Not the music industry, if Magpie has anything to do with it.
-- Pam Winters
Appearing Saturday at St. Mark's Presbyterian Church in Rockville.