Singer/songwriter Bev Grant has been an active presence in the protest
and folk scene since the 1960s. She was one of the radical upstarts in
Greenwich Village coffee- houses when the Village still felt bohemian and
affording rent was actually a possibility.
Grant led her band, The Human Condition, to national prominence in the
early 1970s, after sharing the stage with such luminaries as Phil Ochs,
Pete Seeger, and others. The Human Condition was a protest band in the
truest sense, albeit approaching the music in a unique manner. Strains
of rock, Latin music, R&B, pop, fused with the essence of smoky folk clubs.
Adding to her topical singer’s pedigree, Grant was on the bill of Ochs’s
1973 festival, “An Evening With Salvador Allende” at NYC’s Madison Square
Garden, a benefit for refugees fleeing Chile after the U.S.-orchestrated
After recording a couple of major-label LPs (available through Grant’s
website), the band split. Grant next performed both solo and in duet with
guitarist/singer Bruce Markow and in a series of other groups. She developed
a special fondness for the company of other female voices. As Grant explained,
she began performing in a sister act as a child, so harmonizing with other
women came naturally. After working with a women’s chorus in New Jersey,
Grant created the Brooklyn Women’s Chorus and eventually her feminist politics
came together with her next group, Bev Grant and the Dissident Daughters.
This latest aggregation’s core sound doesn’t resemble the rock/folk of
The Human Condition or the singer-songwriter genre one expects from a culture
warrior brandishing an acoustic guitar. Instead Grant’s Dissident Daughters
offers three-part soprano and alto harmonies bellowing out like the Andrew
Sisters gone radical. One can hear a century’s worth of music in the confines
of this CD. This ensemble swings, rocks, jumps, soothes, and kicks ass.
Grant’s original line-up included Lynn Stabile and Valerie Andrew- levich,
two strong vocalists who recorded the current disc with her. After about
a year of performing together, the Daughters moved onto other projects,
so two more, Angela Lockhart and Carolynn Murphy, have taken on the powerful
roles. You can hear it all when they perform live, but their CD Cheeky
Woman offers a brilliant document of this powerful trio.
The CD opens with the Grant- penned number “Mama’s Leaving Home,” a beautiful
account of the dilemma of the middle-aged wife/ mother who comes to learn
that she has never really known herself. It’s presented as up-tempo swing
that belies the emptiness of the title. The album is filled with gems like
this, as well as Jolie Rickman’s “Emma Goldman,” Stephan Foster’s “Hard
Times Come No More” (with a warm lead vocal by Stabile), and the immigrant-centered
“In America,” written by Grant and Markow. This CD can appeal to many ages
and cultures as it all sounds familiar while being edgy at the same time.
Its pronounced feminist thread is pleasingly in your face.
Some of the other cuts include “Where Women Rule,” the story of an African
village led by a matriarchy, and “Tired of the Bastards,” which stylistically
has much in common with the Almanac Singers, save for the contemporary
lyrical frankness (“I’m tired of the bastards fucking over me”). Humor
notwithstanding, the album’s closer, “America’s Dirty Little Secret,” offers
both melodic beauty and devastatingly harsh lyrics about a struggling single
mother. Not that Cheeky Woman pulls any punches, but this song speaks volumes
about the sexism, racism, and classism of the Bush years. It’s a vital
piece of music for young women to hear. But then, so is the whole album.
It’s one to go out and buy for your teenagers as well as for the rest of
John Pietaro is a musician, writer, and labor organizer from New York.