Bernie Sanders—the socialist junior senator from Vermont who is “prepared to run for president” in 2016 and wants a new “political revolution” in America—released a folk album.
Well, not recently, but on Wednesday, Vermont alt-weekly Seven Days unearthed “We Shall Overcome,” Sanders’ collection of folk covers. Sanders cut the record in 1987 while serving as mayor of Burlington, and it includes his renditions of such classics as “This Land Is Your Land” and the titular civil rights anthem.
“As talented of a guy as he is, he has absolutely not one musical bone in his body, and that became painfully obvious from the get-go,” Todd Lockwood, who helped Sanders record the album, told Seven Days. “This is a guy who couldn’t even tap his foot to music coming over the radio. No sense of melody. No sense of rhythm—the rhythm part surprised me, because he has good rhythm when he’s delivering a speech in public.”
You can listen to Sanders’ album below:
The senator’s office, sadly, doesn’t have much to say about their boss’s old record making the rounds this week.
“We’ve been focusing on other things,” Jeff Frank, press secretary for Sen. Sanders, told The Daily Beast. “We don’t have a statement on this besides that [the folk album] does exist.”
When asked if he had listened to the album, Frank responded with a terse and cheerful “Oh, yeah.”
I reached out to some professional music critics to see what they thought of the senator’s musical effort. Zachary Lipez, who writes for Vice’s “Noisey,” was kind enough to get back to me—with a generally favorable review.
“It doesn’t sound like they took it terribly seriously,” Lipez told the Beast. “Hey, I would listen to a Barney Frank neo-folk album. I like stuff like this...I would certainly rather listen to [Sanders’ album] than Vampire Weekend.”
Jessica Hopper, senior editor of The Pitchfork Review, offered a mixed-to-negative assessment.
“His take of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ is nearly unlistenable, but, to be fair, in the eighties a lot of white people were having grim flirtations with reggae guitar on albums where they did not belong,” she said. “His vocal style owes a lot to traditional political oratory, so he’s not trying to hide who he is, which is a good choice—I don’t think him ‘singing’ more would have made this a better album.”
The senator follows in the long tradition of American politicians doing things with musical instruments. Recent examples include guitar-strumming Democratic congressmen Keith Ellison and Joseph Crowley battling each other with Prince songs to mark the 30th anniversary of the release of Purple Rain, and President Obama singing “Sweet Home Chicago” with Buddy Guy, B.B. King, and Mick Jagger.