SPARKY & RHONDA RUCKER
Let Freedom Ring, the latest effort from the remarkable Sparky and Rhonda Rucker, is a collection of familiar freedom songs, union and traditional tunes, as well as two of Rhonda's originals woven in. And it all works, because Sparky and Rhonda believe - and live - this music.
From the Civil Rights movement and anti-Vietnam-war days of the 1960s to the present, Sparky Rucker has been singing songs for change. When Rhonda joined him, they embarked on a journey that is documented through many of these songs.
The theme of freedom flows through every tune, whether freedom to find love, to register to vote, to join a union, or to get along with one's neighbor. However, what makes this CD even more special is the exquisite way in which Sparky and Rhonda present them on this recording. The songs are tender when they should be, driving when appropriate, and always inspiring.
The cover drawing pictures Sparky and Rhonda looking out on the Washington Mall, with the point of view that Martin Luther King had in August 1963 when he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. Sparky was a student at the University of Tennessee in 1968 when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. When I listened to Let Freedom Ring, I thought of that April night so many years ago and how proud Dr. King might have been to hear the way Sparky and Rhonda lovingly crafted this collection of freedom songs for those who did not necessarily live through those times. And also for those of us who did.
If the body of America is its land, then its soul is the long struggle to extend freedom to more of its people. Let Freedom Ring is a celebration of America's soul. These beautiful songs are a mixture of old and new. They include songs of abolition, Civil War, and suffrage days (Wade in the Water, Marching Through Georgia, Uncle Sam's Daughter), statements of confrontation (Which Side Are You On?, We Shall Not Be Moved); classics about labor (Sylvie), love (Corrina, Corrina) and hope (Midnight Special); two lovely new songs (Living River, Circle of Love); familiar movement songs (Oh Freedom, Hold On, We Shall Overcome); and a seldom heard but wonderfully pointed song about how the dogs of warring neighbors just want to have fun together (Dog, Dog).
Sparky and Rhonda Rucker are deeply rooted in America's freedom struggles. Sparky's civil rights work goes back to 'the day' – Tennessee in the 1960's. Their mentors, Guy and Candy Carawan of the Highlander Folk School, are legends in the music of the movement, and neighbors even today. Sparky's guitar has a free-wheeling but relaxed authority. Rhonda's harmonica, banjo and keyboard work has the same feeling, and they complement each other perfectly.
Sit back, listen, and enjoy these songs of our soul.
Charles Collyer, Ph.D.
From the first cut of “We Shall Not Be Moved,” Sparky and Rhonda Rucker sing and play the songs that resonate in my heart and reverberate in my soul. As we speed past the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the songs of this album are a clarion reminder that music strengthens our resolves to realize our dreams of peace, equality and justice.
From the traditional to their own, the songs showcase their social consciousness. I’ve known Sparky and his music for nigh on forty years and have always considered him to be a true Appalachian troubadour. They deliver the songs of social action in a manner that brings back the marching days, whether the days of the Civil War or the days of Civil Rights Movement. His liner notes richly recall the influences of Highlander Center, along with his family and community, in his younger years.
Several of the cuts provide wonderful opportunities for singing along. I can only hope that I’m with folks accepting of my voice when I hear “Wade in the Water,” “Oh, Freedom,” ‘Which Side are You On?,” “Hold On,” “Midnight Special,” and “Sylvie.” Goosebumps is a mild description of what “We Shall Overcome” gives when they gather friends and family, delivering strength and solidarity. Along with the good old songs, Rhonda’s song writing shines in some beautiful songs, including the soothing “Living River, ” the suffragette “Uncle Sam’s Daughter,” and the sensitive ”Circle of Love.” These are songs that will be sung by many in the years to come.
Let Freedom Ring is a soundtrack of our lives and a soundtrack for our lives today. It is a reminder that social change is an on-going effort and one which needs the joy and inspiration of music like you’ll find in this album. This is the most significant new album on my music player. Others may be entertaining, but nothing beats Let Freedom Ring for inspiration and motivation, as well as entertainment!
Sparky and Rhonda's new CD, "Let Freedom Ring", contains mostly solid older songs, with an emphasis on freedom and love. Included, are two lovely original songs written by Rhonda. The music is presented in a straightforward way, using spirited supporting singers. The songs come across with an engaging and inviting freshness. It's a most enjoyable album!
It was probably inevitable that Sparky and Rhonda Rucker would record an album like "Let Freedom Ring."
The couple has been touring and recording folk music for most of their 24 years of marriage. Before that, Sparky was a solo performer and activist. A photo in the booklet for the album shows Sparky (in stylish Afro and Black Panther button) in a University of Tennessee campus demonstration in 1967....
He hung out at the Highlander Folk School (now the Highlander Research and Education Center) to hear much and ended up learning blues and how to play bottleneck guitar from the Rev. Pearly Brown and Babe Stovall.
When Stokely Carmichael came to Knoxville to speak, Sparky was enlisted to be a bodyguard because H. Rap Brown had the flu....
I first encountered Sparky at the Laurel Theater when I was a teenager in 1975, by which time he was a well-known folk performer. That night featured Guy and Candie Carawan (the Highlander Folk School educators/performers who inspired Sparky to become a folk performer and to whom the new album is dedicated) and a few other artists. Sparky sang several folk and blues numbers, but it was his rendition of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" that absolutely knocked me out.
By then, he had worked as a teacher for a while and it was obvious his sense of American history included all Americans.
He and Rhonda (who he married 24 years ago) decided to record "Let Freedom Ring" to be a companion-piece to the couple's educational programs on the Civil Rights movement....
And, Rhonda who has blossomed over the past two decades as a songwriter has some new songs on the set.
For the new CD Sparky called up Candie Carawan and invited Candie and Guy to sing on the song "We Shall Overcome." ...When the song was recorded it included the Carawans (including son Evan), Nancy Brennan Strange, Dan Gammon and George Reynolds all singing along. "It ended up being a real magical time," says Sparky.
In addition to contributions of friends in the recording, the album cover art was conceived and painted by the couple's son, James.
And the Ruckers continue to expand.
Rhonda will soon have a children's book, "Swing Low, Sweet Harriet," published and will be featured on an upcoming album of female harmonica players. Sparky is featured in the documentary "Before the Memories Fade: Voices From the Civil Rights Movement."
Don't expect them to slow down anytime soon.