Pete Seeger,
The Storm King
(Hatchette, 2013)

After making at least 45 solo albums and many more as a member of the Alamamac Singers and the Weavers, Pete Seeger, now 93, has long since passed into a kind of secular sainthood. He is revered, held up to adoration by the very people who used to chastise him and blacklist him because of his politics. He is now officially an American treasure.

No one deserves it more.

He has lost much of his voice now and has announced that he will not sing any more, another sign of the high ethical standards he's maintained throughout his life. Now, rather than sing, he has released a spoken-word album, where he tell stories, recites poetry and song lyrics and reminisces about the old days, using the music of other people as a background. He opens with a narrative about his parents. When Seeger was a tiny baby, his parents built a covered wagon trailer to haul behind their car. It held their piano, and they drove around the southern United States to bring music and culture to the people. One night, after playing for an Appalachian family, the family's father said they played a little music themselves. They got down fiddles, guitars and banjos and started playing mountain music. Charles Seeger decided that night there was no reason to bring music to these people; they already had it.

This is the type of story Seeger delights in. It appears that no matter how old he or how famous he gets, he has never lost his belief in and faith in the people. The stories he tells on this set demonstrate that fact again and again. When he talks about Lee Hayes, he doesn't talk about his talent as a singer or songwriter, but instead about his nature as a human being, his caring for the earth and for the people who trod it. It's the same thing with his tale of Woodie Guthrie. He remembers a time when the actor Will Geer, who was appearing on Broadway in Tobacco Road, talked the producers into keeping the theater open so they could do a midnight benefit concert for migrant workers in California. Seeger names everyone who played that night, working his way up to Guthrie. Then the story turns into how Alan Lomax recorded Woodie for the Library of Congress.

Again and again, he neglects the show biz side of things, emphasizing the human side instead. After listening, I feel like I know much better a man I've admired all of my life.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

27 April 2013

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