Peggy Seeger,
Three Score & Ten
(Appleseed, 2007)

This double album is a recording of a concert held at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2005 to celebrate the 70th birthday of one of folk music's most enduring talents, Peggy Seeger -- and what a celebration this turned out to be! A formidable cast of musicians from both sides of the Atlantic joined Peggy on stage. Her own family alone is an astounding mainstay of folk music: her brothers Mike and Pete Seeger, and her sons Calum and Neill MacColl. Joining them are the first family of British folk music, the Waterson-Carthy clan; Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy. Add to this the subversive talents of Billy Bragg and you kind of get the idea of the sort of evening you're in for here.

Peggy's own feisty compositions provide much to enjoy here. "Different Therefore Equal" celebrates the differences between male and female, pointing out that one can't survive without the other, accompanied by just the bodhran and spoons in a delightfully rhythmic arrangement: "If her and him are indispensable / Treatin' 'em similar is only sensible / Reason gives us the logical sequel / We're different, therefore equal." On "Cavemen," Seeger tries to make sense of endless global unrest, whilst pricking the conscience of the American nation: "We know it's so / We know it's so / It's in our name / It means yes / If we don't say no."

The ghost of Ewan MacColl looms large at the start of the second disc, beginning with Peggy's emotional reading of "Poem for Ewan" and followed immediately by her tender rendition of MacColl's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Perhaps less obviously, MacColl's ghost is present in Bragg's appearance -- possibly one of the modern-day carriers of the MacColl flame, albeit very much in his own style. Bragg accompanies Peggy on an unrehearsed rendition of her song "Darling Annie," which proves to be an amiable and sometimes jovial affair.

The most majestic moment of the evening is provided by the doyenne of English folk music, Norma Waterson, along with daughter Eliza Carthy, in a typically plaintive and dramatic interpretation of "Lowlands of Holland." Norma and Eliza also bring their vocal intensity to the ensemble performance of the traditional American ballad "Careless Love" to great effect.

The poignancy is undeniable when Peggy performs with her two siblings, Mike and Pete. To hear their three banjos and vocals together is to witness a sound of true legend. And talking of true legend, Pete and Peggy lead an audience sing-along on Pete's renowned "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" in a moment that really highlights the genuine uniqueness of this celebratory event.

Three Score & Ten represents a collection of music that may not be to the taste of everyone; being honest, it wouldn't really by my preference. However, one can't deny the impact that the Seeger family has had on shaping music and politics, and as a celebration of the work of the youngest Seeger sibling, this stands as a remarkable document of her life in music and an enjoyable celebration of her undeniable talent and commitment. Just sit back and enjoy the bonhomie of the occasion!

review by
Mike Wilson

28 July 2007

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