Certain blocks of time in history are known for their linings of protest music. The 1960s and 1970s are popular decades of recent 20th century memory for many to call upon in discussions of such music but there’s also the matter of chants, and cleverly disguised protest folk music. Such songs filled the fields, roads, and other places of hard labor that Black folks were forced to work in the times of slavery, Civil War, and even during the mid 20th century when Jim Crow laws still prevailed around the U.S., leaving left the Black communities in the U.S. without equal rights or even basic dignity in everyday life.
Now in 2020, protest music has again become a vibrant, ubiquitous source of songwriting motivation and inspiration around the U.S.. However, unlike the somewhat niche musical recollections many have about past times in American history, the music currently filling people’s day to days lives is less bound by stylistic qualities or demographic segments and speaks more so to just the specific problems currently fracturing society. It’s often a music of purpose and messaging more than specific sounds and genre-marked instrumentations.
Pete Mancini, a Long Island, NY singer-songwriter who is known for music that embraces the many qualities of roots music, (last featured here while celebrating his 2017 album, Foothill Freeway) has chosen to dive wholeheartedly into the rising stream of 2020’s protest music with his newest single, “Millions More.”
A partner to the track “Generations,” the former song is an unabashed anthem that cuts straight to the heart of several specific trials and tribulations currently befalling much of the U.S. populace all around the nation, starting with outlining one of the most inflammatory situations at present and only building with more urgency from there.
“Whatever this is, it ain’t us
Who do you fear? Who can you trust?
See the evil, turn and run
shield you eyes when the tear gas comes”
– Lyrics from “Millions More”
Unlike much of Mancini’s existing catalog of work, including his 2019 full length release Flying First Class (Diversion Records, 2019), “Millions More” doesn’t put Mancini on a hook-oriented roadmap for the song. There isn’t nearly as much focus on a clever guitar twist, or interesting pedal steel twang. The whole flow of the song kicks off in a linear, mission-oriented fashion. There’s a definite and clear structure of verse, pre-chorus, chorus, but, the transitions from one to the next aren’t made to be overly complicated or fancy.
The song relies on the lyrics, the truthfulness of their underlying narrative, and the directness in Mancini’s vocal delivery. Though Mancini sings at a mildly higher register naturally, the push and energy of “Millions More” hears him carry the vocal at almost near a consistent belting in the verses. Though a subtle performative detail, this decision reflects an extra way the central vocal melody can impart a sense of relentlessness, which is another character quality sewn into the song’s call for perseverance in the face of public adversity.
“Be a chorus heard across the land.”
– Lyrics from “Millions More”
The melody keeps things minimal, never straying far outside a step or two in any pitch direction. Yet, the heavily layered, thick toned, and slightly jagged lead guitar boosts the music up and gives it a bold presence. One might imagine the way “Millions More” sounds, mirrors the way a bronzed statue, though frozen in place, still evokes a sense of strength and steadfast power, especially the more detailed its carving. The “Fearless Girl” of New York City comes to mind.
Between the rock solid guitar and the loud splashes of ride cymbal that ring in support of it throughout, it’s hard, if not impossible, to get swept up in the energizing intent of the song, which remains its primary purpose. Only at the final verse, when a near identical set of lyrics varies just enough to describe a more empowered and immovable scenario (Whatever this is / it ain’t us / Who do you fear? / Who can you trust? / Look the evil in the eyes / Lock your arms when the tear gas flies), does Mancini seem to move “Millions More” forward like a traditional song story roadmap. But even then, the vantage point remains in a place of active call-to-action in protest, rather than reactionary but passive wishing and wanting (even if furiously so.)
Musically and tonally, “Millions More” shouldn’t be all that jarring for existing fans of Manici’s work, as he’s been known to play with the kind of thick guitar tones and splashy drums heard here. What’s notable, is that neither the raw truths in the messaging nor aspects of Mancini’s recognized sonic profile required a significant dampening or alteration to be noticed and make their respective impacts. Speaking truths in protest music while keeping listeners engaged, and staying true to one’s musical personality isn’t an easy line to walk but, “Millions More” succeeds on all fronts.
“Millions More” is available now.
Get it via Bandcamp.
Stay connected with Pete Mancini through his official website and these social media platforms: