On the country tune "Free the World to Death," Hanifi satirizes American imperialism through an updated trope: an Old West cowboy, tweaked out and riding through a Middle Eastern desert. The lyrics are provocative, discomforting: "Democracy, democracy, one size fits all. First get down on your belly and crawl." This, coupled with local rockabilly guitarist George Bedard's swaggering solos, makes for a well-thrown punch of a song. The album also features a version of this song sung in Pashto--an official language of Afghanistan--completing Afghan American Hanifi's sardonic appropriation of an image and a musical style often associated with red-white-and-blue jingoism.
Other standout tracks include "Rock and Roll Frankenstein"--whose heartsick acoustic sound, lustrous slide guitar, and warm vocals echo Beck's masterpiece album Sea Change--and the sexy, bluesy "The Way Business Gets Done," again featuring guitarist Bedard as well as Hanifi's ability to hit--really hit--those high notes. Songwriting aside, it's Hanifi's voice--softer than Elton John's steel-edged vocals, less pinched than Elvis Costello's, yet reminiscent of both--that captures your attention. At the same TOP concert this past summer, on a 100-plus-degree day, Hanifi delivered a pitch-perfect rendition of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams," earning him loud cheers from a refreshed audience.
[Originally published in November, 2012.]