This third album in the Seeds collection, which attempts to gather up the countless songs of Pete Seeger, once again gives listeners a little more insight into that bountiful garden of Mr. Seeger's folk repertoire, which continues to be sown throughout the world. It's impossible to neatly categorize the work of a man who is simultaneously an activist, a music teacher and an entertainer -- somehow all rolled into one. He can be singing gently for children one moment, than angrily protesting a war the next, without ever appearing like he's out of his element. This banjo-playing senior citizen may not rock your jukebox - all you rock hipsters, you -- but it's hard not to have respect for the wide-reaching impact of Pete Seeger's performances and songs. If he's not an icon, nobody is.
This two-fer is broken down into one disc titled, Pete & Friends, and another one called Friends Of Pete. The Pete & Friends half finds Pete (not surprisingly, given that title) performing with some of his dearest friends and admirers, whereas the second section is primarily made up with admirers having takes at some of his compositions. In both instances, the listener is left in awe of Seeger's great and varied body of work. At one point during the song Flowers Of Peace (which features the singing of Anne Hills), Seeger sings, "If you and I would see those flowers, go out and till the soil/It takes more than prayers, it takes hard and sweaty toil." Or to put it bluntly, gardens don't grow all by themselves. Peter Seeger has put a lot of time and effort into his craft over the years, and it shows.
Many of this album's selections were recorded right around the beginning of the US invasion of Iraq, and a somber country-at-war atmosphere helped to turn Bring Them Home into one of the standout tracks on disc one. On it, Steve Earle, Billy Bragg and Ani DiFranco, who are all later-day Seegers in many ways, assist Seeger vocally. Its words may have been written about the Vietnam War, but such always-true lyrical sentiments are fitting for any and all conflicts where national military actions don't quite sit well with much of the populace. A completely different side of Seeger's personality, however, is revealed with English Is Cuh-ray-zee. This is a song that humorously details the many ways in which the English language doesn't make sense. It's a wonder anybody outside of the US is able to pick up on this mangled communications code, when you really sit down and think about it. Toward the end of disc one, Seeger's song leader persona takes center stage, as he leads an audience through the singing of the hopeful Over The Rainbow. This is probably the Pete Seeger we know and love best. This is the Seeger side that would rather lead an enthusiastic choir/audience in boisterous group singing, than stand all alone in the spotlight. The closing Sailing Down My Golden River, which was inspired - according to the CD booklet - by Seeger's sailing lessons, is also a curious aural entry. It features an orchestral arrangement by Michael Kamen, who is best known for his film soundtrack work, and it was recorded in David Gilmour's studio. Gilmour, you may recall, is the guitarist for the progressive rock band Pink Floyd. Now, if Pete could have only worked up something from Dark Side Of The Moon. But, I digress.
The second disc in this package presents an array of artists performing their favorite Seeger creations. For the most part, this group is comprised of familiar folk figures. In fact, some of the song selections are a tad more fascinating than the performers themselves. Janis Ian, for example, is heard singing Who Killed Norma Jean, which is a song Seeger wrote about Marylyn Monroe's untimely death. (For some reason, mentioning Marylyn Monroe and Pete Seeger in the same breath, is as uncomfortable as writing a sentence with Pete Seeger and Pink Floyd in it. But I'll get over that, I'm sure). The most striking track on this "Friends Of" segment is a rocking take on that old miner's lament, Bells of Rhymney. The rock band The Byrds may have popularized this song many years ago, but Dick Gaughan has given it a whole lot more teeth here. A folk artist rocks harder than a rock band. Now that's unusual. Natalie Merchant (who contributed Which Side Are You On) may be the highest profile female vocalist on this album, but Pat Humphries leaves a more lasting impression, due to her singing of Old Devil Time and To My Old Brown Earth. She deserves to be a much more familiar name. She has a voice that should attract 10,000 Maniacs, and then some.
This album is certainly praiseworthy, but seeds are only as effective as the ground they're planted in. Hopefully, this heartfelt project will find many receptive listeners who will give it the proper chance to grow and live, the same way Pete Seeger's songs continue to thrive.
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