26 April 2006

Somewhere, John Henry is smiling.

I've got to admit it - when someone told me that Bruce Springsteen was going to be releasing a whole album of Pete Seeger covers, my first response was to yawn. I like the stuff he's done with the East Street Band, but I've never been much of a fan of his solo efforts. I really didn't know what to expect from this one, but it definitely wasn't much. I suppose I figured it would probably be another Bruce + guitar album - probably quiet, almost certainly acoustic.

When the album popped up in my Tuesday morning email from iTunes, I decided to take a couple of minutes to sample a track or two. I did that. Then I sampled a couple of more. Then one or two more. Then I bought the album.

I don't exactly know how to describe it, except to say that it's good. It's Shakespeare, the way it's meant to be done. Springsteen got together with a large group of musicians - fiddles, horns, drums, banjo, washboard, jug (I think), and recorded something that sounds like a really good jam session. It's not a choreographed studio album. It's a bunch of people making music and enjoying themselves along the way.

The song choices are pretty damn good, too. The title track (We Shall Overcome) was a little weak (it sounds like Bruce is trying to channel early Dylan), the rest of the tracks are a well-chosen mixture of civil rights related pieces (Jacob's Ladder, Eyes on the Prize), working man's songs (John Henry), and just plain fun music (Ol' Dan Tucker, Froggie Went A Courtin'). I really can't remember the last time I've found an album that I've enjoyed so much.


Anonymous said...

I just listened to the "John Henry" clip on Amazon. This is great stuff! Thanks for pointing it out.

Ed Darrell said...

Great story on Pete Seeger in New Yorker a couple of weeks back, in preparation for this release. It's worth looking for at the library.

Pete's banjo has on it a phrase he stole from Woody Guthrie: "This machine surrounds hate, and forces it to surrender."

Anonymous said...

I bought the disk (yes, I'm an atavist.) It's great!