Friday, December 11, 2015

Bruce Springsteen 18: The Seeger Sessions

Despite his affinity for rock ‘n roll and motorcycle jackets, Bruce Springsteen has longed to emulate dusty folksingers. Whereas Bob Dylan never shied away from his debt to Woody Guthrie, the Boss chose Pete Seeger for inspiration on one of his more surprising projects. Suggested by a late-‘90s diversion, and likely pushed along by his political activism in the Bush II era, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions collects several folk songs, performed in what sounds like a barn with fiddles and Salvation Army horns. The result is a lot of fun despite the occasionally dour subject matter.
True folk songs have become part of America’s fabric, and these tunes would be recognizable, even if the titles aren’t. Kids of a certain age will recall “Old Dan Tucker”, “John Henry” and “Froggie Went A-Courtin’” from elementary school, while more scholarly types will nod at “Erie Canal”, “Pay Me My Money Down” and “Shenandoah”. “Eyes On The Prize” and “My Oklahoma Home” gain more gravity in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which also gives “We Shall Overcome” more depth if not edge.
The album was released as a DualDisc, with bonus audio mixed in with DVD content. As has been all too common in this century, it was rereleased six months later as an expanded CD, adding three live tracks to the two earlier extras. The subtitle American Land Edition was suggested by the sole original composition in the set.
To prove that it wasn’t just a whim, Bruce took 17 people on the road on both sides of the pond, playing songs from the album, other public domain songs, and even new arrangements of his own songs. Three nights were the source of Live In Dublin, which presents a very boisterous crowd reacting positively to the folk songs they knew as well as such reworked nuggets as “Atlantic City”, “If I Should Fall Behind”, “Blinded By The Light” and even a jump swing extension of “Open All Night”. Of particular note is a raucous “American Land”, which sounds even more like a Pogues song. With several singers taking turns at the mic, the virtual concert is even more of a hootenanny than the album that inspired it all.

Bruce Springsteen We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006)—
American Land Edition: same as 2006, plus 5 extra tracks
Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band Live In Dublin (2007)—3

1 comment:

  1. "Live in Dublin" is for those who couldn't get enough of "The Seeger Sessions", I would suppose. Or it's a reasonable substitute, since most of the songs appear on both albums. Ireland was one place they were sure to get a rabid response to this material. (And, duh, I should have realized where the Celtic influences that showed up on later albums came from).

    The reworked originals must have provoked fits from Bruce purists who just wanted to rawk. The emphasis on "Nebraska" isn't surprising (although I remain unconvinced that Bruce could ever pull off "Atlantic City" with a band), but the tracks from "Asbury Park" are. Bruce not only changed the arrangements radically, but the melodies, too. My favorite is the sort of swing version of "Blinded by the Light", which must have been the first time in decades that Bruce performed it and leaves the lyrics in no doubt.

    These albums show Bruce letting down his hair quite a bit. They're fun.