“One fine morning I woke up early to find the fascist at my door,” sings Tom Waits in rough and mournful voice on “Bella Ciao (Goodbye Beautiful),” a song from guitarist Marc Ribot’s new album Goodbye Beautiful/Songs of Resistance 1942–2018. It’s not hard to see the modern parallel to this 19th-century Italian folk song, sung during World War II by members of the Italian resistance to protest fascist rule.
Waits and Ribot’s Trump-era update is a lovely, elegiac acoustic chamber waltz on which the singer and guitarist — close collaborators since the mid-Eighties, when Ribot’s stinging electric twang helped define the sound of Waits albums like Rain Dogs — trade world-weary verses and melancholy melodic leads. “This is the flower of the partisan who died for freedom,” Waits sings at the end of the track, his first vocal recording in two years. The song’s video, by director Jem Cohen, blends bleak-looking footage of Washington, D.C., landmarks with shots of recent anti-Trump protests and brief glimpses of pink flowers. One man sits on the street holding a sign, decorated with middle fingers, that says “Screw Donald Trump.”
Elsewhere on the album, guests such as Steve Earle, Meshell Ndegeocello, Justin Vivian Bond and Fay Victor join Ribot to perform a mixture of new and vintage protest songs. Taken together, the material shows how songs like these have always played a key role in struggles against oppressive regimes.
Goodbye Beautiful, which came out Friday, is Ribot’s second protest album of 2018. In April, he and his raw power trio Ceramic Dog, with bassist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith, released YRU Still Here?, an amplified, punk-inspired counterpart to Goodbye Beautiful, featuring songs like “Pennsylvania 6 6666” and “Fuck La Migra.” Taken together, the records make a powerful yin/yang statement, expressing equal parts bitter frustration and steely-eyed hope.