Fourth of July seemed like a good time to recognize songs that touch on themes like freedom, independence, protest, politics and a sense of place. And in a state rich with songwriters, I didn’t have to go beyond our borders to find them.

From songs that speak about Maine’s history to ones that take aim at the nation’s hot topics, like Black Lives Matter and Trump’s ongoing battle for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, there’s no shortage of material. Personally, I think dissent is far more patriotic that uninformed apathy, and music is an outstanding way to express oneself in a meaningful way. Protest music has been around just about as long as music itself and is as much a part of the American story as anything else.

That said, I’ve singled out six more recent songs – from the past two decades or so – that stand out to me both in their musicality and their message. Remember, you can love your country and still call into question what happens in it. Those things have never been mutually exclusively, and let’s hope they never are.

Chris Ross and the North Photo by Britney Kelley

“Same Town” is by Americana act Chris Ross and the North from the 2017 album “Over Lonesome.” Ross told me that the song delves into the issues of immigration and xenophobia. The poignant, acoustic ballad includes the lyrics, “Baby at her breast, Maria’s turning nineteen/At a podium shouting a sermon of fear/She worries her neighbors are starting to hear/She says, ‘Hush now, we’re all broke from the same bow, we’re all born in the same town.'” “Your America” is another tune worth mentioning, from Ross’ 2012 solo album “Halfway to Wonderland.” “You remember you were young, you were Clark Kent sitting on a cloud up high/Weren’t no politician tell you who you could love or could lead you to bleed, tell you when you should speak or what you should be.”

Jenny Van West Photo by VWC Communications

“Live in a New Way” is by singer-songwriter Jenny Van West from the 2018 album “Happiness to Burn.” West said that the song was inspired by Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who died in 2015 while in police custody in Baltimore. The song is an upbeat toe-tapper that instills hope while also addressing the issue of police brutality. “Why is that mama crying? Baby didn’t make it home tonight/I’m tired of the dying, just want everyone to be all right/Gonna live in a new way, cause we’ve got some debts to pay/Some of us are angry, some of us don’t know what to do/Some of us are weary, some of us just want to get through/If we can just let go of the hate, might not feel the need to dominate/If we could could just admit we’d been wrong, might have a chance at getting along.”

In 2016, nationally known folk singer David Mallett released the album “Celebration.” The title track is a call to peace, rather than a call to arms, and if I had unlimited space I’d quote the entirety of it. These few lines, however, capture its essence: “Too many smoke stacks spewing ash/Too many people with no cash/Too much waste, not enough water/Too many abandoned sons and daughters/Too many lost and hopeless feelings/Too many lowdown shady dealings/This can’t be our destination/This could be a better nation.”

Cattle Call Photo courtesy of the artist

In 1998, the alt-country band Cattle Call released an album called “Good Life.” The band is still active and recently rereleased the album. Cattle Call is fronted by singer, songwriter and acoustic guitarist Mark Farrington. The track “Log Trucks and Snowmobile Trails” celebrates rural Maine while also taking a few shots at the South. “Up north the air is different and the winter’s way too long/And we don’t pretend that the Civil War’s still on.” Later in the song there’s this: “I’ll take Aroostook County, I’ll take the Fryeburg Fair/You can draw the Mason-Dixon line right there/Log trucks and snowmobile trails/Last stop on the Appalachian Trail/I don’t expect you rebels to understand/But I live and die in this winter wonderland.”

Don Campbell Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

In 2008, folk-rock/country act Don Campell Band released the album “American Garage.” It includes the tracks “Red, White and Blue Heart,” a song Campbell wrote to honor Pat Tillman, the NFL player who left his contract to serve in the special forces. Tillman died in Afghanistan in 2004 at the age of 27. “You should have seen him run, in the Arizona hot sun/With freedom in his hair, he heard a trumpet somewhere/With the rising cloud of smoke, a sleeping hero inside awoke/Cause you have to do your part when you’ve got a red, white and blue heart.”


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