Back now with DAY TO DAY, and this...

(Soundbite of song)

BRAND: That's a band called State Radio with front man Chad Stokes. He became successful through word of mouth and the Internet. State Radio has a new album out. It's called "Year of the Crow." Chad Stokes stopped by our studios to talk with music journalist Christian Bordal and to play some tunes.

CHRISTIAN BORDAL: State Radio's new CD, "Year of the Crow," contains songs about Darfur, Iraq, the CIA, Halliburton, and Guantanamo.

(Soundbite of song)

BORDAL: There's not a love-dove, moon-June rhyme to be found on this record.

Mr. CHAD STOKES (State Radio): This is real and this is what moves me. So from the beginning I think a lot of my songs were anti-establishment.

(Soundbite of song)

BORDAL: But State Radio's lead singer and songwriter, Chad Stokes, doesn't just sing political lyrics. He started the Elias Fund to improve the lives of youth in Zimbabwe. And he's currently working on a TV show called "How's Your News?" That's a kind of comic news documentary anchored by people with severe disabilities.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. STOKES: (Singing) You're accused of whatever you confess to. If you don't confess, you don't see the light of day. There must be another way. There must be another way. (Unintelligible)

BORDAL: Stokes says he was awakened to political activism early by living next to a place called the Peace Abbey in his hometown of Sherborn, Mass.

Mr. STOKES: Growing up next to that place was just really unique, I think. And I would see the founder, Lewis Randa, he would be chained to crane in Boston because of this or that project. And it wasn't too long before I started joining him on different expeditions.

(Soundbite of song, "CIA")

Mr. STOKES: (Singing) Mama, mama, don't look now. (Unintelligible) There's red bus and it's coming up (unintelligible) and I might recommend that when the protests are over (unintelligible)...

BORDAL: "CIA" is one of the tunes off the new State Radio album that Chad played recently in our studio. He told me it's based on work he did with a confrontational political group in New York protesting the agency's operations in South and Central America.

Mr. STOKES: And one thing that came up was the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia - also called School of Assassins - where the United States trains Latin American soldiers how to torture, you know, sort of the U.S. methods. And often it was to put some sort of puppet government in, in say Guatemala or El Salvador.

(Soundbite of song, "CIA")

Mr. STOKES: (Singing) Where are the Americans now that they fractured your country? Don't you ever let us down, CIA, don't you ever let us down...

BORDAL: It's an unusual topic for a rock song, particularly one that's essentially a punk-rock dance party.

(Soundbite of song, "CIA")

Mr. STOKES: (Singing) Don't you ever let us down, CIA. I know you'll never let us down (unintelligible)

BORDAL: I asked Chad if he's ever concerned about driving away potential fans with politically controversial lyrics.

BORDAL: Not really. It's amazing what you can put in a song and people won't pick up on it.

BORDAL: Right. Though he says the band does occasionally run into opposition.

Mr. STOKES: Some guy came up to me the other - like last year and said I love your music, but I don't like what you say. We had our tires slashed in Kentucky, and we've gotten people, you know, giving us the finger from the crowd, you know, if we're opening for someone else or if it's not necessarily a State Radio crowd.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. STOKES: (Singing) It was a rough night. Turned in a year and a (unintelligible). Just a grudge fight cooked up by some D.C. suits (unintelligible) and we had a high time, but we tried to understand these born-again (unintelligible) libertines...

BORDAL: The band's new album, "Year of the Crow," was produced at Peter Gabriel's Real World studios by Tchad Blake, who's worked with bands such as Soul Coughing and Pearl Jam. Blake brings an organic grit and immediacy to the recording that elevates it above the more conventional rock band sound of State Radio's first release, "Us Against the Crown."

Mr. STOKES: He's so talented and so we really trusted him. I think that was really good because we were playing some old kit he had. He didn't want to tune the drums. It was all about feel and energy and we'd play five takes and he would say, now, this sounds like a recording, take four, but take one sounds dangerous, you know, and so we'd always go with take one.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. STOKES: (Singing) And they sold us down the face of the mighty river. (Unintelligible) Hold me now. (Unintelligible) the war emporium...

BORDAL: We seems to have lost our stomach these days for provocative, lusty politics in music, but there's a rich tradition of protest in folk and blues, punk and reggae, and State Radio's one of the few bands nowadays that's working in that tradition.

You can argue that the politics are a bit naive or the lyrics simplistic. But at least these songs are trying to actually say something, not to mention that a number of them really rock, with great, loose, groovy playing by Chad and his bandmates Chuck Fay and Mad Dog, and excellent, rough, dry production. And who knows, in this unusually exciting campaign season, people seem to be waking up to politics. Maybe they'll start taking a little in their music too.

BORDAL: For NPR News, I'm Christian Bordal.

(Soundbite of song)

BRAND: You can hear NPR's live session with Chad Stokes along with tracks from State Radio's album "Year of the Crow" on our music web site: Christian Bordal also has a new CD out called "Seven Songs" with his band, Emma Lazarus.

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