Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006)

B+

1. Old Dan Tucker 2. Jesse James 3. Mrs. McGrath 4. O Mary Don’t You Weep 5. John Henry 6. Eerie Canal 7. Jacob’s Ladder 8. My Oklahoma Home 9. Eyes On The Prize 10. Shenandoah 11. Pay Me My Money Down 12. We Shall Overcome 13. Froggie Went A Courtin’

 

At last! The once-in-a-lifetime musical event the world has waited decades for: a Bob Seger covers album by Bruce Springsteen. Oh, how long I’d pined to hear The Boss soulfully croon his way through “Against the Wind” and tear up some ass on “Old Time Rock ‘n Roll” before taking a swing down on “Main Street.” Without even hearing it, I award The Bob Seger Sessions an A+ and automatically grant it the title of Greatest Album Ever Made.

(*checks spelling*)

At last! Proof that Bruce Springsteen is a traitorous anti-American crotchsniffer. Why else would he record a tribute album for the most effective purveyor of socialist propaganda in American history? You know, the guy who turned “This Land Is Your Land,” a blatant vision of living in a communist utopia, into what is perhaps our nation’s most ubiquitous children’s song? Who was responsible for young students around the country knowing how to sing “Guantanamera,” a Cuban peasant’s revolutionary lament – in Spanish, no less? Someone get Trump on this. Maybe he’ll build the wall around New Jersey instead. Which actually wouldn’t be so bad, come to think of it.

I kid, but seriously, I don’t know how HUAC could have fucked up its attempted blackballing of Pete Seeger more. Following his heroic testimony before those bunch of jerkwads in the mid-’50s, the only gigs he could get were at elementary schools and summer camps, where he taught kids how to sing a bunch of anti-fascist Woody Guthrie songs. Everybody knows brainwashing works best when you get ‘em while they’re young! Thank Gob those fuckers somehow managed to overlook that. Just scanning the tracklist of We Shall Overcome, it’s amazing how many of these songs kids are taught in school (or at least I assume they are… for all I know, 3rd graders are learning how to play the entirety of Lemonade on the recorder. Who the fuck knows). I mean, not all of them are expressly political, but even the most innocent-seeming among them have less than politically correct origins (the original non-kid friendly version of “Froggie Went a-Courtin’” is violent as fuck; “We Shall Overcome” would probably be considered some kind of radical anti-police Black Lives Matter anthem in the modern political climate; “Old Dan Tucker” is a fucking minstrel song).

So you’ve known basically every one of these songs since you were a kid. The question is: what does Bruce Springsteen bring to them that makes them worth hearing again? Well, for one thing, he hired a bunch of amazing unknown folk musicians to back him up, ensuring the musicianship would be on point. And for another, he approached the material exactly like you would expect Bruce Springsteen to approach it: bombastic as hell, with shouted gang vocals and simultaneous solos galore. Basically, if the E Street Band were a 1940s New Orleans jug band, they would probably sound exactly like this.

Indeed, if We Shall Overcome has a defining instrumental feature, it’s the highly New Orleans-y horn section – a wonderful and fitting tribute to the city that George W. Bush allowed the destruction of the year before this came out. Otherwise, you got your banjo pickin’, you got your fiddlin’, and you got your Bruce strummin’ and shoutin’ along like always. There’s an interesting debate to be had about whether the Springsteen Touch is appropriate for some of these songs. Is Bruce yelling at the top of his lungs like he’s exhorting an arena crowd to sing along to “Born in the U.S.A.” and commanding “Everybody solo!” to his band really appropriate for songs with such implacably grassroots origins and points of view? These songs were meant to be sung in front parlors and around campfires, not Madison fucking Square Garden.

It’s best not to worry about such things. It’s obvious just from how much pure joy his performances exude that Bruce wanted to play these songs out of a deep and abiding affection for them, not for the purpose of exploitation (since most of these songs are public domain means their lost-to-history composers’ descendants ain’t getting no royalty checks from this album, the fact that Bruce made it with real folk musicians–the folks responsible for keeping these songs alive–and then took them on tour with him amounts to a way of paying back the folk community – serving as a wealthy patron, if you will). Sure, there are a few songs on here where the bombast is a bit grating and I’d rather just hear Pete Seeger alone with his banjo singing with a roomful of kids (the hyper-repetitive “Pay Me My Money Down,” the sour, overlong “O Mary Don’t You Weep”). But for the most part, these tunes are such a hootin’ hollerin’ good time that I couldn’t be happier that Springsteen-ized versions of them exist. I DARE you not to leave your troubles behind and sing along like a fool to ecstatic anthems like “Old Dan Tucker” (GET OUT THE WAY OLD DAN TUCKER), “Jacob’s Ladder” (WE ARE CLIIIIIIMBIN’), and “My Oklahoma Home” (BLOWED AWAY! BLOWED AWAY!), or drop a few tears in your beer while humming along to soulful spirituals like “Shenandoah” and “We Shall Overcome.”

Basically, when considered as an authentic folk album, We Shall Overcome is slightly questionable. But as a Bruce Springsteen album, well… it’s his best since Born in the U.S.A. In terms of performance style and lyrical themes, it features just about everything you’ve always loved about Bruce, minus the electric guitars and headbands.



One Comment

  1. victoid wrote:

    Is Eerie Canal a song about a haunted theme park ride?


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