Being as I am amongst friends here, I’ll tell the truth. When I received a press release saying Anti-Flag were going to release an album made up of acoustic versions of some of the songs from their last two records and three covers. I wasn’t immediately grabbed by the concept.

Then I heard the lead track here – the last song on “American Spring” their 2015 effort – “The Debate Is Over (If You Want It)” and all of a sudden it made perfect sense.

For one thing, it’s a magnificent version of the track. Like Dave Hause covering a Gaslight Anthem song if you want an easy hook, but there is another reason for the moment of clarity.

Anti-flag have made their name over the last 22 years and 12 albums as punks with a social conscience, left wing politics abound throughout their career and hearing them like this is to hear this type of music in its purest form. From Woody Guthrie, to Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, even Frank Turner, it has always been the acoustic guitar that kills fascists better than anything else.

One thing I won’t call these tracks, though is “protest songs”. Such a term is too pejorative and suggests that those of us on the left have no answers beyond kicking against the pricks, an empty rebellion. That’s the type of crap that the right wants to peddle, when instead, these seven songs give a message of alternative, of hope, of a different way of doing things.

And they are superbly played, too. There is a real aggression about the harmonies of “Trouble Follows Me”, a real darkness about the throb of “American Attraction” and the version of last years “When The Walls Fall” positively spits its contempt for the America of Trump.

“Racists” is a real highlight in this form. Another from “American Fall”, it takes apart those who start sentences with the words: “I am not a racist but…..” and does so with viciousness. “Set Yourself On Fire” comes from a different place, but is no less excellent, and the last of the originals, “Brandenburg Gate” is nothing more and nothing less than a piece of superb singer/songwriter stuff.

The three covers see them all plugged in and ready to go. Lennon’s “Gimmie Some Truth” could get a moshpit going like this, Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” is a song so good its hard to get wrong – but this finds a new slant, essentially by making it sound like “Baba O’Reilly”. And “Surrender”? Well “Surrender” proves that everyone loves “Cheap Trick” and also that it always was a punk song, but perhaps the chanted “We’re all alright” at the end means a little more in the context of what’s has happened before.

More importantly, “American Reckoning” is all the proof you need that the best songs can always be done in different forms. Indeed, it doesn’t matter whether you know the originals or not, it is as simple as this. Whether you believe that music can make a difference, or that the right aren’t right, or if you just love acoustic aggression, then you need this record.

Rating 8.5/10

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