Bruce Springsteen - We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
"Your job as an artist is to build a box, and then let people watch you escape from it." – Bruce Springsteen, to the Associated Press, April 23, 2006
Most famous for his all-American rock songs, Bruce Springsteen has been so successful that he's reached a point where he could undertake any project he wished, and he's used that opportunity to make a folk record, recording songs written or popularized by legendary songwriter Pete Seeger. These songs are rich in history, with some dating back to the early 19th century, and Springsteen's arrangements are generally outstanding.
Especially noteworthy are standout versions of ‘O Mary Don't You Weep’, the Irish anti-war ballad ‘Mrs. McGrath’, and Woodie Guthrie's 1930s protest song, ‘Jesse James’. While it is at first surprising to hear Springsteen accompanied by banjo, accordion, pump organ and brass, his voice is versatile enough to make him convincing as a folk artist. Of course, it helps that he's an underrated storyteller. The music is flawless; charmingly organic and rough around the edges, performed with skill and understanding of the importance of the songs. It is obvious, also, that all involved had the time of their lives making the record - the enthusiasm is palpable, as is the artistic freedom. (Springsteen makes sure to mention in the liner notes that the arrangements were composed as they went along, without rehearsal.)
While this record does contain many classic folk songs, it would have been nice to hear some with more contemporary relevance, and so perhaps the major drawback to this release is that it fails to include many of Seeger's best-known '60s era songs, including ‘Turn, Turn, Turn!’ and ‘Little Boxes’. At times, this sounds more like folk for the sake of folk, rather than folk for the sake of a message. With any luck, Springsteen will do a second volume of Seeger's more recent work - here's hoping it turns out as well as this one did.
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