various artists,
If I Had a Song:
The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 2

(Appleseed, 2001)

From the first track to the 16th, If I Had a Song is a joy to listen to as various top performers, including Pete Seeger himself, give us top-class renditions of his songs.

Joan Baez joins Jackson Browne on that first track, "Guantanamera," as it evokes the sun, sea and sand. This has to be one of the most recognizable songs of an era. It is not strictly speaking a Pete Seeger song, as he and Julian Borbon adapted it from an old Cuban melody using lyrics from a book of poems by Jose Marti.

"If I Had a Hammer" is forever associated with Peter, Paul & Mary -- at least in the UK -- but Billy Bragg and Eliza Carthy give it a new British feel on track two. Two people well known for their views and activism unite as Steve Earle gives his version of Seeger's "Walking Down Death Row." This is a thought-provoking song -- as all good folk songs should be -- that brings the death penalty starkly into focus.

Seeger joins Arlo Guthrie to give us "66 Highway Blues." Another song that I was delighted to discover here was "Oh Had I a Golden Thread," performed by Dar Williams and Toshi Reagon. It is a lovely story-song that benefits from a gentle opening melody and a great voice.

"Snow, Snow" is another gentle song with a powerful sentiment. Eric Andersen's voice is ideal for it with its deep hypnotic treatment. "Little Boxes," sung in French by Kate and Anna McCarrigle, is another example of how a song can sound so different from the norm. Knowing the English words but hearing the French gives us a double bonus here. "Last Train to Nuremberg" is another of Seeger's tough questions to the western world, asking us to examine our consciences and account for deeds done.

Not all of Pete Seeger's songs were political and campaigning. "You'll Sing to Me Too" was written for his grandson. Sung by the Nicaraguan duo Guardabarranco, it sounds like both a beautiful lullaby and perhaps a song of longing for a freedom to sing. "Well May the World Go," sung by Larry Long with Seeger, is my favourite track on this 16-track CD. I love the tune and the sentiments as he questions our pessimism by asking if we ever expected to see Mandela free or the USA out of Vietnam.

This is a CD of folk music but also a social history of the 20th century in song. The booklet gives background on the songs, the events and the singers.

Anyone with a social conscience will enjoy this collection from one of the best songwriters of his era. Even the least committed out there can enjoy some great tunes and blot out the sentiments -- but you will lose more than you gain.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 15 February 2003

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