Peggy Seeger,
(Appleseed, 2012)

various artists,
Music City Roots: Live from the Loveless Cafe
(Music City Roots, 2012)

Musically speaking, these two discs don't have a whole lot in common. They do, however, answer to some definition or other of "roots," a word that grows ever more slippery the more it's used. It's used a lot these days.

Once married to the legendary British revival figure Ewan MacColl, her performing and recording career stretching back to the 1950s, Peggy Seeger is a folk singer of the old school, sister to the late Mike Seeger, half-sister to the famous Pete. The various artists of Music City Roots sing from a range of traditions and styles, encompassing rock, New Orleans jazz, gospel, country and, yes, folk. Theirs is the music once known as Now the preferred genre title is "Americana" -- whatever that is. Nobody really seems to know.

What the CDs do share, aside from being recorded live, is a connection to excellent causes. Seeger's comes out of a concert whose proceedings went to an embattled women's shelter. The profits for Music City Roots will go to the Nature Conservancy of Tennessee. So as you listen to these recordings after you've purchased them, you can both enjoy the music and feel good about yourself. Nothing wrong with that.

Roots features 11 songs cut by artists housed mostly in Nashville, where more than the sort of swill that spins on mainstream country radio is to be found if you look for it. You can start here. Most of the performers are unfamiliar to me, though I try to follow these things reasonably closely. But the late Charlie Louvin is a presence, as is the prominent singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith. Jim Lauderdale is likely a recognizable name to some. I am more enamored of some songs than of others, but nothing here fails to engender some degree of pleasure.

My personal favorite features Caitlin Rose ("Sinful Wishing Well"), stunningly conjuring up memories of the young Emmylou Harris's immense talent. Rose is somebody I'm going to have to learn more about. There's also the new-to-me, Knoxville-based Black Lillies' "Little Darlin'," which thrills with its loose-limbed fusion of mountain bluegrass and driving rockabilly.

Peggy Seeger's Live documents her continuing commitment to folk music and social causes, especially (if not exclusively) feminism. Her "I'm Gonna Be an Engineer," reprised here, was something of an anthem of the movement in the 1970s. On the first cut she pays loving tribute to Mike Seeger (d. August 7, 2009) to whom she was close and with whom she released her previous album (see my review here of 21 May 2011).

Besides a few spoken asides giving voice to Seeger's amiable sense of humor, she offers up an assortment of traditional and topical songs. If you know her music, you'll know what to expect and be content she's still doing it so ably.

music review by
Jerome Clark

30 June 2012

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