Springsteen's 'Seeger' amusing
By Mark Beech
Bloomberg News Service
By Mark Beech
"WE SHALL OVERCOME — THE SEEGER SESSIONS," BY BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN; SONY
In his youth, Bruce Springsteen was dubbed "the future of rock," thanks to his blazing E Street band workouts and original wordplay. Now, at 56, he has lowered the volume and turned to the past.
On his latest recording, "We Shall Overcome — The Seeger Sessions," Springsteen has swapped his Fender guitars for fiddles and banjos, and the songs are associated with one of the guiding lights of American folk music, Pete Seeger, who turned 87 on Wednesday.
The title might suggest that he is intent on reviving Seeger's political protest. Springsteen backed unsuccessful Democratic presidential contender Sen. John Kerry in 2004.
The earnest versions of "We Shall Overcome" by Joan Baez made the spiritual into a desperate hope for victory in the face of continual defeat. Springsteen reprises his earlier version, cut for a Seeger tribute, though the title track is downcast enough to be the least uplifting thing on the CD.
For the most part, though, this album is far more upbeat than some recent Springsteen offerings. It is nicely ragged, even family-friendly. It's hard not to catch the enthusiasm of the lively assembly of 13 players, including Mrs. Springsteen, backing singer Patti Scialfa.
"Pay Me My Money Down" is likely to have toes tapping. Springsteen and his cohorts revive the ghost of the Band's "Rag Mama Rag," with trumpet, sax and accordion kicking in on pieces such as "Jacob's Ladder" and the railroad song "John Henry." Much of this is joyous music, made for the pleasure of playing and being alive.
If Springsteen was after political comment, he would surely have covered "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," which could say as much about Iraq as it did about Vietnam. But he passes. There's no reworking of "Turn, Turn, Turn" either. That's good, it's hard to surpass the 1965 version by The Byrds.
Some of the frontier songs included on this CD were corny when Seeger revitalized them. It's fortunate that Springsteen balances the hoary "Froggie Went a-Courtin" with a lovely ballad, "Shenandoah," which adds weight to the proceedings.
The dual-disc includes a half-hour DVD on the flip side, featuring jam sessions in Springsteen's New Jersey farmhouse. I'd rather stick with the music.
Fans will find the album distracting, amusing and nonessential.