Man O' War (Better Days Records)

Todd Fuller

By Jim Conway

Probably the purest, as well as the most misinterpreted style of popular music is acoustic folk. Pure, because of the simplicity of a sound containing no supporting musicians or complicated arrangements. Just the human voice and a flat top guitar . . . total economy with no distractions.

The paradox of this simplicity can lead to an "artistic hot seat," with potential listener over-indulgence in the performer's message. Like Bob Dylan's music of the mid-60s, an unwanted fanatical reverence as well as misrepresentation can crush an artist of lesser convictions.

Speaking of the mid-60s, that was the last time folk music was considered commercially viable. So far, Generation X has yet to produce a folk artist with the universal appeal representing today's young adult. So what about Todd Fuller?

Fuller, who used to go by the pseudonym John Train, offers a militaristic call to arms with Man O' War. From the black-and-white military cover photography to anthem-like titles, Fuller's three-year military hitch obviously left him with a somewhat dark, survivalist outlook for society during the closing months of the 20th century.

Self-serving government is explored in "Hidden Agenda," which blasts a the supposedly "free" media for not reporting all of the facts that would expose the corruption that exists in our own and many other countries throughout the world. The title cut offers an option to those who get caught up in being the political pawns of a militaristic government: "...You see the sorrow that comes from your hand / Choose not to do it, walk to the sun / Freedom can't ring, till you lay your gun down."

The legendary tale of Cartaphilas, the Roman soldier who supposedly speared Jesus during his crucifixion, is the inspiration for "The Man Who Killed Christ." With an understated but driving acoustic guitar riff, the narrator tells the tale of how evil is a product of the common man, and that all powerful men will eventually die, failing to realize that the common man will carry this on, enabling another leader to re-enact the cycle of corruption.

Finally, "The Harbor In Me" depicts those feelings harbored deep inside us all, not readily visible to our peers, but which simmer within never the less. They seem to bias our perceptions and feelings towards others. Unfortunately, Fuller offers no solution to the unresolved anger, leaving the listener with an almost nihilistic feeling, which presents a problem of the aforementioned Generation X. Unlike the folkies of the '60s, Fuller doesn't really convey which side he's on: good or good intentions?

In the common American folk tradition, for example, the performer might be pro- common man, anti- big government, like Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger. Another example could be pro-freedom, anti-repression like Dylan and Joan Baez. There was no doubt where they stood. Hopefully, Todd Fuller will find where he stands.