Every once in a while an artistic event occurs which resonates powerfully on many levels. This is what I’m expecting of Bruce Springsteen‘s upcoming We Shall Overcome: the Seeger Sessions. First, it honors one of America’s greatest troubadours, Pete Seeger, in the twilight of his memorable career and life. Second, it marks a new direction for Springsteen’s music (or a return if you like to a Nebraska-like musical simplicity) by harkening back to the folk music that preceded him. Third, it marks a reaffirmation of Springsteen’s commitment to political engagement through music–an artistic tradition of which Seeger was the preeminent exponent. The album’s subtitle “The Seeger Sessions” adds a sense of historic import to the recording as if these studio efforts hold long-term musical significance.
In the 1998, Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Springsteen recorded We Shall Overcome (hear it). I’ve got to say that this version, while sweet and loving doesn’t (at least for me) plumb the depths of the song or add new resonance for a contemporary audience. I hope that the other tracks in the new album will go deeper. To hear Pete’s live concert version of the same song (hear it) from the 60s and his soaring tenor rendition of the lyric, “we are not afraid TODAY!,” just plain blows Springsteen’s cover out of the water. An equally compelling version is the SNCC Freedom Singers (including Dorothy Cotton and Seeger–hear it). A little more passion, Bruce!
Columbia Records released this press statement about the upcoming album:
Columbia Records will release Bruce Springsteen’s twenty-first album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, on April 25. The album features Bruce’s personal interpretations of thirteen traditional songs, all of them associated with the legendary guiding light of American folk music, Pete Seeger, for whom the album is named. Speaking of the origins of the new music, Springsteen said, “So much of my writing, particularly when I write acoustically, comes straight out of the folk tradition. Making this album was creatively liberating because I have a love of all those different roots sounds… they can conjure up a world with just a few notes and a few words.”
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions will be released in DualDisc format, with the full album on one side of the disc and DVD content on the other side. The 30 minute video side of the DualDisc contains extensive behind the scenes footage of the recording of the album. In addition, the DualDisc package will contain two bonus tracks and a special booklet including a note from Springsteen.
Springsteen is planning a short tour in the U.S. and Europe to accompany the release of the album. He will be appearing with most of the musicians who appeared on the CD.
According to Springsteen’s longtime manager Jon Landau, “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions has a lightness and ease to it, a sheer joyfulness, that makes it very special from top to bottom. Bruce has taken a core group of classic American songs and transformed them into a high energy, modern and very personal statement.”
1. Old Dan Tucker
2. Jessie James
3. Mrs. McGrath
4. Oh, Mary, Don’t You Weep
5. John Henry
6. Erie Canal
7. Jacob’s Ladder
8. My Oklahoma Home
9. Eyes On The Prize
11. Pay Me My Money Down
12. We Shall Overcome
13. Froggie Went A-Courtin’
How Can I Keep From Singing
CNN‘s coverage is typically tone-deaf in noting:
It is unknown what type of venue the new dates will play, but Springsteen manager Jon Landau told Billboard last fall that arena theater configurations proved successful for the Devils & Dust dates.
Can’t you just see Springsteen singing Shenandoah in a 20,000 seat “arena theater?” Of course, it’s possible that he’d agree to do so, but the result would transgress the original; and I’d hope he’d somehow find a way to perform in smaller halls that would more befit the informality and warmth implicit in Seeger’s songs.
For folkies like me who live for traditional music the new album represents a musical convergence of the highest magnitude. Pete Seeger was the first musician in my life I heard live in concert (my father took me to shows he did at Ramapo High School and other local venues). I can still remember listening to my dad’s old Live at the Vanguard LP with great old chestnuts like Barbara Allen, We Shall Overcome and Living in the Country. Pete Seeger’s music was like mother’s milk to me. I’ve probably attended more Seeger concerts than any other musician’s (though Van Morrison would be a close second).
I also crewed on Seeger’s Hudson River sloop, Clearwater, in its first summer (1969) plying the waters of the River. Feeling the summer night breeze blow across the bow was one of the most bracing feelings I’ve ever had. It was here I met Mark Kempner, another volunteer crew member who was a first-rate and charismatic musician. It was an incredibly exciting time to be alive and Pete made it happen by the sheer force of his personality.
Pete is now in the twilight of his life. This is a time of summing up. And I can’t think of a better way to do it than this homage from the Boss covering some of his finest songs. In the Jewish rabbinic tradition, students show the utmost respect for their teachers. To me, that is what I hope and expect from this album. I have little doubt that Springsteen will deliver.
For more information about the release see Backstreets.com.
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