Squawk Radio

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Liz Gets to the Root of American Music

I know Bruce Springsteen is someone everyone here has heard about, and I figure a lot of people already have this CD, and I had actually planned to blog on a different CD today, but, well, I listened to this in the car this week and was totally blown away and just HAD to blog on it immediately.

When I first saw “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” in stores, I had two immediate thoughts. First, “Why the hell is Bruce Springsteen covering Bob Seeger songs?” and two, “I don’t remember Bob Seeger recording ‘We Shall Overcome.’” Yes, I am, at times, that stupid. Of course, I quickly realized it’s not BOB SEger (with one e) he’s covering on this album, it’s PETE SEEger (with two es). But even though I grew up in the 60s, I was never all that familiar with Pete’s music. (My Dad, as big a music lover as he was, was a staunch conservative, so never would have allowed “protest music” into our home.)

Nevertheless, SO MUCH of the music on this CD is familiar to me, because my mom, having grown up in rural western Kentucky, sang a lot of them to me when I was a kid. Both “Buffalo Gals” and “Froggie Went ‘a Courtin’” are lullabies, as far as I’m concerned. Others, like “Erie Canal” and “Old Dan Tucker” were also staples in elementary school music class. (I was delighted a few years ago when my son’s class performed “Old Dan Tucker” in a school music program.) In fact, it was my mom’s sister, my Aunt Bonnie, easily the most musically gifted member of our family (perhaps the ONLY musically gifted member of our family) who sent the CD to me, telling me she hoped I liked hearing the music of their childhood.

Oh, I do. I really, really do.

But even hearing these old, wonderful songs again wasn’t what blew me away. What blew me away was the way Bruce surrounded himself by musicians who are masters of American music. All kinds of American music. There’s a definite bent toward pure, New Orleans jazz, but there’s also bluegrass and gospel and folk. And what’s really cool is that, hearing this album all in one sitting, you see how many similarities all these styles share, and how they all influenced each other. You also hear remnants of the music brought to this country via immigration so many years ago, which also influenced these styles. “Mrs. McGrath” is an old Irish folk song I’d never heard before (and Irish folk was such a huge influence on Bluegrass), and it actually made me burst into tears while I was driving, so sad are the lyrics and so hauntingly does Springsteen sing it. There are other places in other songs where the violins and accordians sound eastern European or Russian. It’s just an incredible conucopia of music that is a feast for the ears. And Springsteen's craggy voice gives it an even greater earthiness than it already has, and makes more authentic what has always been a common people's music.

As Springsteen states in the liner notes, the CD was recorded live, on three separate days, in a barn on his farm. The group didn’t rehearse together beforehand, so the album is, very much, just a bunch of great musicians getting together to create great music. When you listen to the CD, you feel like you’ve traveled a hundred years or so back in time, from the city to the country, to a dusty old barn where a band of wandering musicians is setting up to perform in exchange for their supper. So pull up a chair and enjoy. There will be dancing, too.
Elizabeth Bevarly, 10:36 AM