Since making it big in 1975 with his third album Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen has had the artistic luxury of rarely releasing a record with the same sound as his last. The Seeger Sessions is no exception. A folk record, this is the first covers album The Boss has ever done. Based on the tracks recorded and popularised by Pete Seeger in the 40s, 50s and 60s the album was recorded with a large ensemble of musicians over two days, and as a result the album has a very live feel. Although this reviewer is not overly familiar with Pete Seeger's music, most tracks on this release have a familiar sound and feeling, as if perhaps we all used to sing them back in our school days.
Things kick off with the snappy and enticing banjo chords of Old Dan Tucker. This is one that would certainly get people to their feet at the hoe down. Springsteen's banjo and gravelly vocals sit perfectly alongside the bass and rythms of the big band. Next up is Jesse James the tale of Jesse James and his murder by The Coward Robert Ford. The band keep tempo with Springsteen's quick story telling developing into some saloon bar accordian.
The album moves on with much variation in tracks from the Seeger catalogue. Mrs McGrath tells the story of the mother of a son badly wounded during the civil war, their woes being spelt out with a strong fiddle accompanyment. O Mary Don't You Weep takes turns to faith and the story of Moses and Pharohs army drowning at the parting of the Red Sea. Pay Me My Money Down was sung by black ship workers when captains tried to slip out of harbour without paying them, and the title track We Shall Overcome reflects Springsteen's active criticism of the current US political regime as a famous song sung around the world in political protest for justice and equality.
This edition varies on the original April release with the addition of five extra tracks, the strongest of which Froggie Went A Courtin, and the excellent American Land, recorded live in front of a New York audience. However, all additional tracks are up to the quality of the original release and there is a sense that the back catalogue was there to produce many more tracks to this high standard.
This is not an album that you will play repeatedly, but like Springsteen's other more adventurous projects you will return to it again and again at times when something a little different is what's required.