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The Folk Historian Still Standing Tall,
This review is from: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 2: If I Had a Song... (Audio CD)
Some of the points concerning the review of this volume of the three volume CD set honoring the music of Pete Seeger were previously made in a review of " Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, American Masters Series, PBS, 2006". They apply here equally as well.
Does anyone from the "Generation of '68" who was interested in folk music, and there were legions of us, really remember the first time we heard that thrilling voice of Pete Seeger (generally then accompanied by a banjo). Probably for me it was in some variation of The Weavers' version of Lead Belly's "Goodnight, Irene" but I am really not sure. That deep but nevertheless gentle voice first came at us over the radio or on a record player (A what? I hear the younger set saying-well, old fogies, fill them in later). Not television, however, as this is one folksinger that was banned in Boston, as the old expression went.
Why? Was it because Pete sang randy, racy songs and thus offended the moral scruples of the community? Hell no. Just for the simple act of political expression of not telling the various `distinguished' Congressional committees down in old Washington in the 1950's whether he was or was not a communist. Kid's stuff now but then it meant your life and livelihood if you gave the wrong answer, or worst, no answer. This information is just a little background to demonstrate why, if any other reason was necessary, old Pete (now 89) was being honored in 2001with a three volume CD set of his most enduring works performed by a virtual who's who of old and new folkies, including Joan Baez, Jackson Browne, Arlo Guthrie, Billy Bragg and the late Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer. It was, moreover, nice to hear something produced to pay homage to the man while he still breathes.
The above paragraph is just my little valentine to the work of the man. Make no mistake Pete stands, and has most always stood, for a different political perspective than mine but one must cut cultural workers a certain amount of political slack when it comes to their craft. I take issue with his concept of thinking globally and acting locally. The reverse is necessary- think locally and act globally. But what can one say negatively about this man's musical good news.
A short list of my favorites here- "Oh, Had I A Golden Thread", "Turn, Turn, Turn (his adaptation), "Last Train to Nuremberg" (a powerful anti-war song written during the Vietnam anti-war struggle in the same mode as Dylan's "Masters Of War"), Malvina Reynolds' "Little Boxes" and "Old Devil Time" just begins to do justice to the man. Best of all, Appleseed Records seems to be carrying out the tradition of Yazoo Records and Smithsonian/Folkway Records in providing copious liner notes to accompany their CDs. It was nice to read Pete's take on the genesis of his various musical efforts that were included here. Oh well, enough of the valentines, except one thing. Something is definitely out of joint with the times when, as was shown in the American Masters documentary mentioned above, Pete was being feted by then President Clinton at the White House for good citizenship. Pete, where did you go wrong?