Pete Seeger, various artists,
Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 3
(Appleseed, 2003)

We hear so much today about superstars and long careers and how many hits some pop singer has penned. In comparison, how about someone 84 years old, with 60-plus years of performing under his belt -- and still producing the goods? Yes, born in 1919, Pete Seeger was in college with John F. Kennedy and in 2003 he released a double CD featuring more of his own compositions alongside songs that are identified with him. Not only that, but this is volume three of the set and the previous two releases have earned more than $100,000 for various charities.

Anyone who professes to like folk music has been weaned on the work of this prolific writer and performer from his days with the Almanac Singers and the Weavers to his solo efforts and collaborations. But, even without that pedigree, history and respect, this CD would be worth tracking down. Here on a double CD you get 45 tracks and, along with Seeger, you experience a panoply of folk greats, old and new, ranging from Tom Paxton through Janis Ian and Dick Gaughan to Natalie Merchant, to name but a few.

The first CD features Seeger -- often accompanied by the best in modern folk -- singing songs that he wrote, adapted or adopted. The best and most topical of these is "Bring Them Home," which was originally composed at the time of the Vietnam War but has been updated to 2003. Alongside Seeger we have the voices of Ani DiFranco, Billy Bragg and Steve Earle. Before anyone runs for the gun this is not a simple anti-war song it is a celebration of the freedom of Americans to voice their opinions.

"The Dove" is a beautifully sung piece with just guitar and voices of Seeger, Anne Hills and Tom Pacheco. Waldemar Hille and David Arkin (father of actor Alan Arkin) wrote the song. The old Scottish tune "Wild Mountain Thyme" is the backing to the fabulous song "Flowers of Peace." Hills is the female voice and Seeger's recorder gives the track a truly haunted feeling. This song written when JFK was president -- four decades ago -- is still fresh and relevant today.

His involvement with the Civil Rights movement is epitomised in two tracks: "Dr. King on Violence" is a spoken piece that cannot fail to impress. Seeger follows it with his own composition, "Take It from Dr. King." Perhaps the most surprising track on the album is "Over the Rainbow." Yes, it is the song from The Wizard of Oz and it is amazing, especial with the audience as chorus.

The second CD is subtitled "The Friends of Pete" and could be a hit album on its own.

Pat Humphries opens it -- after a short, spoken piece by Seeger -- with his song "Old Devil Time." Seeger has composed some great pieces but he is not averse to using traditional melodies or even classical tunes. One excellent use of the classical here is "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," with some new, beautiful lyrics added to the music of J.S. Bach. Seeger reverses the tack on the subsequent offering, putting his music to the words of a poem by Idris Davies, a friend of Dylan Thomas. This produces Dick Gaughan singing "The Bells of Rhymney," a tale of Wales.

My favourite track on this CD has to be "Times a Gettin' Hard," sung by Tom Paxton. The combination of his gentle voice, excellent playing and lovely words is unbeatable. A surprise is the track called "One Man's Hands," written by Alex Comfort -- author of The Joy of Sex.

Every song on this double album deserves a mention but a better idea would be for you to seek them out and hear them. My words cannot compete with Seeger's words and the talents of this mass of people. If you are looking for a Christmas gift for an old folkie, a socially conscious nephew, a maiden aunt or a loved one, look no further. This one album fits all.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 6 December 2003

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