"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Sunday, May 21, 2006



We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

Sony Music Entertainment, 2,835 yen

Fans of Bruce Springsteen's full-bore rock 'n' roll from the '70s and '80s--songs like "Thunder Road" and "Born to Run"--may be a bit shocked to hear the Boss singing "Froggie Went a Courtin'" on his latest album, and folk purists may decry his newfangled arrangements of old favorites, but those who recognize good music can safely ignore such closed-minded nattering and embrace We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.

It was while recording a version of the titular song for a Pete Seeger tribute album in 1997 that the notion of doing a folk album first took root with Springsteen. The idea grew slowly and it wasn't until eight years later that he brought the same group of musicians together again for a pair of daylong recording sessions at his New Jersey farmhouse.

The Seeger Sessions is a bit of misnomer in that none of the songs on the album were actually written by Seeger, though they are certainly all in his vast repertoire and he is responsible for popularizing some of them.

While Springsteen may have been slow to act on the initial idea, he threw himself into the 2005 recording sessions with a sizable amount of enthusiasm. We Shall Overcome is a bighearted, rollicking spree of a record. The accompanying video of the recording sessions makes the whole thing look like a boozy musical house party with guitars, a banjo, fiddles and drums jamming in the living room and a horn section out in the hall.

Filling out the string band simplicity of the guitar, banjo and fiddle with a New Orleans-style brass section and zydeco accordion turns the old spiritual "Oh Mary, Don't You Weep" into a revival tent meeting that fairly storms along and "Pay Me My Money Down" into a drunken levy camp romp.

The less lighthearted numbers, like the antiwar Irish ballad "Mrs. McGrath," are no less passionate. Springsteen has rarely been in better voice, belting out "John Henry" with a gutbucket urgency and crooning "Shenandoah" with sincere warmth. We Shall Overcome overflows with good humor, spontaneity, high spirits and heart.

The Boss has put the hoot back in hootenanny.


Move by Yourself

Universal International, 2,200 yen

Maybe it's the luxuriant locks and mustache, maybe it's the Marvin Gaye grooves but singer, songwriter, guitarist and pro surfer Donavon Frankenreiter seems stuck in the '70s.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. The '70s may have been the decade of disco, but it also was the pinnacle of the Motown funk and soul sound, a vein Frankenreiter mines to considerable advantage on his sophomore album, Move By Yourself.

While his first effort on surfing pal Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records was a bright slice of rootsy Southern Californian folk, Move By Yourself is a sunny chunk of blue-eyed feel-good funk. The same comfortable grooves are here, but this time backed with basslines that owe more to James Jamerson than James Taylor. Echoes of his earlier, mellower incarnation can still be heard in the pretty acoustic ballad "Beautiful Day."

Frankenreiter is no slouch as a guitarist either, showing off his chops on "That's Too Bad" and teaming up with guest G. Love on the bluesy "Girl Like You." His real talent seems to be his ability to build great old-school soul songs around catchy guitar and keyboard riffs.

(May. 20, 2006)


Scout said...

what i wanna know is if springstein wore seiger like clothing for the session? i mean, is this just an 'aside' or is he seeing the big call now for the war protest songs, cuz i'm either not listening to the radio enough (which i'm not) or we're all going back to the anti vietnam standards.

seriously, can you turn me on to songwriters of today who are writing protest songs of today, i'd love to catch up on the music times a bit.

the rev. said...

Springsteen's last album "Demons and Dust" had a great anti war tune on it, but other than Ani Difranco and Neil Young, Michael Franti and Spearhead,I can't really think of anyone who is writing new protest music outside of the a few rapper (and I don't generally like rap or hip hop very much) I think the old folkie protest tunes are still the best ones anyways.