From Woody Guthrie’s America, Larry Long has come a-singing and organizing, his dog Dubious at his side, his guitar slung handsomely over his faded work shirt. Long hasn’t made a record in a number of years and if you studied his calendar, you’d see why he hasn’t had the time. For one he spent three years organizing chapters up and down the Mississippi ver, trying to clean up the Big Muddy. Two, he’s put in a lot of time singing for the American Indians and their numerous causes, not to mention Central American peace committees, farmers who are about to lose the seat of their pants plus their land, and just about anyone else who asks to be on his mailing list.
So, Run for Freedom is a long-time a-comin’, but it’s come out real good (as they say down on the farm) in the long run. Moving to the city from his little Granite City abode in St. Cloud has sharpened his musical wits and exposed him to a wide range of non-folkie players, most of whom he uses judiciously and, in the case of Billy Peterson, the grand Twin Cities bassist, poetically. Peterson’s playing on “Michael” is as spirited as it can get without drawing to much attention to itself. And although the ubiquitous Claudia Schmidt falls apart on “It Feels OK,” crumbling into the contagious laughter Long can elicit with his own big grin and muse, that’s OK, too. ‘Cause throughout “Run for Freedom” a genuine spiritless remains – even when the story is told at the expense of songcraft, “Anna Mae” is a case in point. The song seeks to immortalize people such as Anna Mae Aquash, a recent Indian hero, and by some accounts, including Long’s, a martyr for a human and just cause – Indian rights. The message gets in the way, but the emotion runs so true within the tale that it finally doesn’t matter whether the songs itself works.
The rest of Long’s second record is chock full of American folksinger attributes – tuneful melodies and strong lyrics looped over tunes about the wide panorama of North America’s varied regions. It has what John Wayne called “true grit”.
In “Blue Highway” Long confirms the sentiment of William Least Heat Moon’s travelogue, “Blue Highways”. Both are about life on the road, as so many good American stories are, and Long underlines the same dimension: the unseen people who live along those untraveled backroads and affect us with their invisibility. (Long penned this song as he watched the river near St. Anthony Falls and claims that he never laid eyes on Moon’s best seller).
The passing of causes and individuals – whether their American Indians or farmers resorting again to penny sales Long sings about in “Grandma’s Penny Sale” – represents an important time in American history. The folk singer has always been there to record his or her version of these transitions, whether they’re tragic or magical, (the feeling behind “Sacred Black Hills” covers both). To his credit, Long’s written and recorded the transitions of our time in one of the finest national anthems the USA has ever heard – “American Hymn” – a deep song that makes room for everyone, regardless of political motivation or how you feel about corporations or fishing rights on Leech Lake.
Larry Long has a pretty good idea about what’s bad in America. But more importantly he understands it’s people. So, when he’s singing these songs, he’s really just singing about me and you, and how we stand above what some other folkie once called “the fruited plain”. The patriot who wrote those lines would do well to check out the “Run for Freedom” LP. The population has changed quite drastically – more newborn babies, worldwide immigrants, and illegal aliens everyday – since “purple mountains’ majesty” was an “in phrase”. Long might be able to provide quite a few new lines for “America the Beautiful.” Knowing his budget for such endeavors, it’s likely he’d work cheap with this fellow songwriter, providing, of course, the chap picks up a copy of this vinyl history. – Martin Keller | City Pages| 1984