In an article titled “Born to Strum,” the Sunday NYT is one of what will undoubtedly be numerous publications interviewing Bruce Springsteen about his forthcoming release, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. I had an opportunity to hear an advance copy this weekend. While I am a huge Springsteen fan, it probably won’t make it into my permanent collection.
As the NYT notes, some Springsteen fans are put out because this is a collection of covers of Pete Seeger’s songs and comes on the heels of the solo acoustic release, Devils & Dust. Where, they ask, is the E Street Band? While I’d love another E Street release, this isn’t what undercuts The Seeger Sessions in my mind. In fact, the album is well done, although I found it a bit overproduced at times. My “problem,” so to speak, is that I’m not a huge fan of the genre.
This is straightforward traditional folk, although layered with a variety of influences you likely would not hear from Seeger (who turns 86 next month) alone. This isn’t a “cause” or political release. It simply pays tribute to a man who had a huge influence on American music. And anyone familiar with Springsteen’s work shouldn’t find this release shocking. He’s always loved to explore Americana and roots music. There’s not only Devils & Dust but also Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad.
From my standpoint, more power to him. I won’t complain about a popular artist who is willing to go beyond what’s made them famous and explore or interpret other genres, particularly when that exploration is a display of and a tribute to musical influences. At the same time, just because I’m a fan of the artist doesn’t mean I have to like every release or exploration. Nor is this is an issue I have with Springsteen or Seeger; it is simply a matter of musical taste. For example, as I look at Bob Dylan, the music of his that attracts me most is what could be called his “post-folkie” period, not his earliest releases.
So, no rave review here. If you like Seeger or American folk, you will likely enjoy The Seeger Sessions. Given the fact I have never been much of a folk music fan, I will await Springsteen’s next release, regardless of whether it is with the E Street Band.
I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, or yours, Mr. Willis, or yours, Mr. Scherer, that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.
Pete Seeger, testimony before the House
Committee on Un-American Activities, Aug. 18, 1955