You can buy Cris Plata’s book “Cris Plata: From Fields to Stage/Del Campo al Escenario” from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
Buy a copy of the CD here.
It’s been twelve years since Cris Plata released a recording. His journey from the son of migrant farm workers in Mexico to musical stages has been well-documented (read Jane Burns’ wonderful article on Plata recently published in the Wisconsin State Journal) and Plata has spent some of his time recounting it himself in his new book “Cris Plata: From Fields to Stage/Del Campo al Escenario.” Migration Road is a companion of sorts to the book, chronicling Plata’s musical inspirations along that journey. Listeners will definitely want to check out the CD liner notes which are produced only on Plata’s website.
Plata’s songs tell stories in the folk tradition but the music can cross genres, incorporating bluegrass, rock, country and traditional Mexican idioms. More often than not, Plata is narrating the injustices suffered by the migrants he has witnessed over his life or had passed on to him. Echoes of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger abound. The most surprising musical style is the rocksteady (precursor to modern reggae) influence cited on “House of the Master,” a catchy, danceable tune that has Plata reaching into his upper vocal register and sounding younger than ever. Backing vocals by Wendy Schneider, currently at working making The Smart Studios Story film and one of Plata’s staunchest supporters, are extremely effective here as well. The rhythm section, which includes the legendary Clyde Stubblefield on percussion, gets appropriately pushed up in the mix. Per the liner notes the song is “a protest song about having to harvest the fruit on Sunday while the growers drink the wine and won’t pay overtime.”
The environment and respect for animals are also frequent themes that surface in Plata’s music. “Sitting in the Shade” is a straight-up environmental protest with a bluegrass lilt reinforced by banjo from the Dang-Its’ Jamie Lampkins. “Goodbye Butterfly” was written by Plata’s wife Ann and is a lament for the dwindling numbers of Monarch butterflies which return to the Mexican highlands each year. The more country-flavored “Moonlight Walkabout” sees Plata recalling youthful times he would sit outdoors and listen to the sounds of the wildlife while playing his guitar. The Rousers’ D. Ernie Conner gets into the act playing some tasteful, haunting electric guitar. Tom Dehlinger adds some beautiful acoustic guitar flourishes.
Conner also plays guitar and provides backing vocals to “Texas Eagle (Train Bound for Dallas)” a song that chronicles a trip from Chicago to Texas. This one resembles the Rousers’ rockabilly sound, allowing Conner to solo in his fiery style.
Dehlinger plays some of the best slide guitar he’s ever done on the stunning “Arabian Wind,” one of the album’s strongest tracks, a folklore tale of a Mexican who chases a mare he’s seen in his dreams while fleeing his drought-stricken homeland.
The album closes with “Little Eagle,” a song Plata claims is his first recording. Based on a true story about an undocumented worker who died in a locked semi-trailer, Plata plays a mean accordion while intoning, “Don’t you know this little eagle, don’t you know that this illegal, is finally sprouting wings and flying home.” The bouncy melody and lively accompaniment belie the mortal nature of the lyrics.
On the CD sleeve Plata thanks all the women who have helped him along his journey. He is no doubt especially grateful to his wife Ann who not only contributed her musical talents but also produced Migration Road. Suffice it to say she’s done a fine job in both departments.
Plata is a Madison treasure, adding a unique voice to the conversation that is Madison music. He seems content to work at his own pace and it would be nice to have more recorded work, but a Cris Plata recording has become something special. We’ll look forward to the next one, whenever it comes.