A new era and a new social climate can sometimes restore meaning and depth to a song long taken for granted. Such is the case for folk-rock legend Richie Havens’ amazing interpretation of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” a standout track on his 30th album.
It’s a mostly acoustic track, with somber cello weaving together the verses, but it has all the energy, joy and forward-thinking inherent in the original version. As we face the election of a new president, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” feels like the perfect anthem for looking forward to change while remembering the lessons of the past.
This is followed by Havens’ take on Andy Fairweather Low’s existential “Standing on the Water,” in which the singer gently purrs his way through the song’s arch exploration of the illusory nature of modern life. The music is a bouncy combination of Tin Pan Alley and bluegrass. Havens also shows his range by taking on both Citizen Cope (“Hurricane Waters”) and Jackson Browne (“Lives in the Balance”), the later getting a quasi-flamenco-rock treatment.
Then there are Havens’ soulful originals. The opener, “The Key,” offers deep-seated spiritual hopefulness, and with “Say It Isn’t So,” Havens uses less than three minutes to get to his point, which is decidedly anti-war but, more important, pro-humanity. Funky electric piano and gospel backing vocals enliven “(Can’t You Hear) Zeus’ Anger Roar,” and the stripped-down folk arrangement on the jubilant title track will allow those of us to whom music once brought hope to feel that potential again.