It would have been easy for rhythm and blues singer Jonathan Butler to jump on the political bandwagon five years ago.
Born and raised in South Africa, Butler knew first-hand of the apartheid and oppression many acts were writing about from their window seats in America.
Instead, Butler, who moved to England in 1984 at the age of 21, did three albums of love songs, toured the world several times and was nominated for a Grammy three years ago.
Butler does address the issues of his people in his latest album, "Heal Our Land."
"I didn't want to be a part of the trend five years ago," says Butler, who will appear with Phyllis Hyman at Painter's Mill Theatre in Owings Mills tomorrow night. "It would have been convenient to write about it then, but for me, it's a very personal thing. I lived the life for 21 years, and it's not something that comes easy for me as a songwriter or a musician. When I finished this album, I was totally drained."
In songs like "Black and White in Color" and "All Grow'd Up," Butler expresses his emotion candidly with lines like "Don't go messing with my freedom."
For his old fans, some of the weighty material may come as a surprise, but he's also included several love songs on the album, such as "Good Life," "Scene of the Crime" and "Sing Me Your Love Song" that are sure to satisfy.
Butler said he realizes that until now, many of his fans didn't even know he was from South Africa.
"It's a blessing for me that I'm still getting fans that are finding out my background," Butler says. "Maybe it's the way I look on an album cover, or maybe it's because my accent has changed that they didn't know.
"Even though I'm a sort of universal person spiritually, I'll always be a South African at heart."
The concert calendar . . .
Also scheduled to perform at Painters Mill Theatre are Kathy Mattea (Nov. 15) and Indigo Girls (Dec. 7).
The Arena has a country triple-bill Saturday with Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard and George Jones.
The Capital Centre welcomes Poison and Warrant (Tuesday), AC/DC and Love/Hate (Nov. 18) and Judas Priest (Dec. 9).
Take 6 with special guests Bela Fleck & the Flecktones perform at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Sunday.
Hammerjacks welcomes the Village People (tomorrow) and NRBQ (Saturday).
Shows at Max's On Broadway include Nils Lofgren (tonight), Jellyfish and Maggie's Dream (Sunday), John Palumbo and Rick Witkowski of Crack the Sky (Nov. 14) and Lowen & Navarro (Nov. 15).