The Songs of Pete Seeger:
This is the second collection of songs in tribute to folk legend Pete Seeger. Formerly of the band the Weavers, and the founder of Sing Out! magazine and the environmental group Clearwater, Seeger has written hundreds of songs that are a staple of American folk music. The first collection was the double-CD set Where Have All the Flowers Gone." On the second collection, a few songs that Pete had never recorded or were obscure compositions from out-of-date recordings make their appearance. This is a wonderful collection that features contemporary artists, as well as lesser-known folk artists.
Unfortunately, the album opens with a pair of lackluster songs: Guantanamera by Jackson Browne and Joan Baez, and If I Had a Hammer by Billy Bragg with Eliza Carthy. Both of these songs should be jubilant - instead, both drag. Picking up the tempo on both of these songs would have gone a long way to making them better album openers.
The album is rescued by the third song, John Wesley Harding's version of Words, Words, Words. Applying his characteristically dead-on pop sensibilities, Wes, along with his band that includes R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, deliver an upbeat song about what Seeger calls the overdependence on words in the world.
Two particularly serious songs are found on Volume 2, and both are delivered in powerful performances. Joel Rafael Band sings the solemn Last Train to Nuremberg. Steve Earle, whose comeback in the last few years has also included political activism on topics like the death penalty, performs the song he was born to sing: Seeger's Walking Down Death Row.
Maple Syrup Time is performed by another apropos group, the Canadian band Moxy Fruvous. They put their fun musical spin on the song, and as they are apt to do, add some of their own new lyrics, as well as interspersing lyrics from a traditional French-Canadian folk song.
Other highlights from the album include, the McGarrigles' rich harmonies on Petites Boites, which make the song sound like a Christmas carol, and the wonderful duet You'll Sing to Me Too by the Nicaraguan brother and sister duo Guardabarranco. Their voices blend well together, and they package the song in a fine acoustic accompaniment.
The album closes with Well May the World Go. Larry Long provides the instrumentation overtop Seeger's bits of wisdom. These are new words to a traditional English song entitled Weel May the Keel Row (Well May the Boat Row). Pete admonishes listeners to keep fighting for what's right in the world and offers hope that the world will be rise above war, poverty, and other social ills.
The CD comes with a thick, detailed, and informative booklet. The liner notes include interviews with Pete that recount the origin of many of the songs. There is also information about the artists that perform the songs, for those who may be unaware of them.
A third tribute album in this series is due out in 2002, and is to include Janis Ian, Holly Near, Ronnie Gilbert, Tom Paxton, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Kim & Reggie Harris and Magpie, and Pete himself. I will look forward to hearing that collection as well.