FAME Reviews The Liberty Tree

The Liberty Tree: A Celebration of the Life and Writings of Thomas Paine

by Mark S. Tucker
written for Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange

In my secret closeted life as a one-man-anarchist (well, ‘social autarchist’ actually, but ask me about that when we meet, and I’ll explain the traditionally misdefined ‘autarchy’ as what the misfortunately named ‘anarchy’ really was meant to be) and one-horse-publisher who’s issued 500+ newsletters of his Left of the Left private e-zine, Veritas Vampirus, I’ve long held that there was really only one true founder of America, and that man is none other than the subject of this long overdue tribute: Thomas Paine. Too, I’ve on-air successfully argued Los Angeles radio talk show hosts (Larry Elder, Doug McIntyre, Lee Klein, etc.) to a standstill on the subject, so nothing pleased me more than to discover this 2-CD set from a label refreshingly like Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles: PM Press.

The imprint also purveys at least three other inimitables—Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Derrick Jensen (not to mention Chumbawamba, who shared a CD with Chomsky in ’97), so Leon Rosselson & Robb Johnson, obviously uber-committed politically and quite Left of Center, are well companioned.

Liberty Tree is a much needed set along the lines of Michael Johnathon’s earlier CD/DVD release on Henry David Thoreau. Rosselson & Johnson as a duo are unaccompanied and very much follow the troubadour / minstrel tradition. You’ll detect traces of Ralph McTell, Gordon Giltrap, John Fahey, Jansch & Renbourn, and other modern composers who favor elder airs while well imagining yourself to be gathered at the crossroads to hear these two play and speak. Many of the twin CDs’ 36 tracks are either publican-style song agitations, reminiscences, or the reading of print by or about The Great Tom.

The bourgeois/royalist slant in the read sentiments regarding Paine are amusing as hell, perfectly reflecting the standard outraged indignation of the Right wing that occurs whenever place and privilege are questioned, regardless of age and epoch. Our two agitators deliver short speeches and song in grassroots style while mocking by inflection and praising through admiration. I guarantee you’ll hear historic materials you’ve never run across otherwise unless you’re an academic, and you’ll also receive an authentic period flavor in all the bardic sonorities. Leon Rosselson has been lauded by the N.Y. Times for his literate topicality and Robb Johnson has been called one for the finest songwriters since Richard Thompson. This is not light praise. Trust me, listening to this collection of songs and words, you’ll rapidly feel the heat of political ire rise while reaching for a tankard, bending the elbow to assuage indignation until the time is propitious for more decisive mindsets.

Sooooooo, what say, lads and lassies…overthrow the king shall we? Tom Paine would approve. So, I don’t think I have to over-emphasize, would these two gents.

Track List:


    •    The Morning Star of the Revolution
    •    The Roots of the Liberty Tree
    •    The Idle Talker & Drinker at the White Hart Social Club, Lewes
    •    The Editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine
    •    Rosa’s Lovely Daughters (Robb Johnson)
    •    Reflections on Unhappy Marriages
    •    Don’t Get Married, Girls (Leon Rosselson)
    •    Independency
    •    Common Sense
    •    The Wall that Stands Between (Leon Rosselson)
    •    The Times that Try Men’s Souls
    •    3 Minutes’ Silence (Robb Johnson)
    •    The Rights of Man, Pt. 1
    •    Remembrance Day (Leon Rosselson)
    •    The Old Construction
    •    We All said Stop the War (Robb Johnson)


    •    The Rights of Man. Pt. 2
    •    Monarchy
    •    On her Silver Jubilee (Leon Rosselson)
    •    Riots & Tumults
    •    Picking Up the Pieces (Robb Johnson)
    •    Wages & Rights
    •    Oliver Twist (Robb Johnson)
    •    Countries that are called Civilised
    •    Palaces of Gold (Leon Rosselson)
    •    High Treason
    •    The Defect Lies in the System
    •    Changing the Guard (Robb Johnson)
    •    Execution & War
    •    The Terror
    •    The Age of Reason
    •    Stand Up for Judas (Leon Rosselson)
    •    Applause & Abuse
    •    The Life of a Libeller
    •    Red & Green (Robb Johnson) / The World turned Upside Down (Leon Rosselson)

All songs written as noted; the other cuts are spoken Paine quotes or from sundry other source, though some tracks are mixes of song and spoken word, with musical and chirographic authorship uncredited.
Edited by: David N. Pyles

Back to Leon Rosselson’s Artist Page | Back to Robb Johnson’s Artist Page