I’m a Bruce Springsteen fan who’s had some fine spiritual reflections—and many moments of enjoyment—courtesy of Bruce’s music and writing. Usually it happens when the E-Street band is behind him, so I wasn’t necessarily excited about his new CD, “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” a solo covering of old folk tunes with some friends and musicians gathered in a living room as background.
But this CD surprises me in its aesthetics as well as its content. This is music from a time when songs were about the music rather than the music business. Over the next week or so, you’ll see Bruce doing several TV appearances to promote the homespun flavor of the Pete Seeger folk-song-inspired project, but it’s not just branding or hype. The disc cover reminds me of the faded varnish of a country barn, but the songs are a famous rocker’s fresh tinkering and fresh spin on everything from campfire tale to gospel standard, from mythic yarn to minstrel song.
My favorite is the deep sound and anti-war lyrics of “Mrs. McGrath,” which includes a gentle nudge for Pres. Bush about our current war. (Though in reported comments the past few days, Springsteen has gone far beyond a gentle nudge, sharply criticizing the president for the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.) I also liked “Pay Me My Money Down,” which is about the haves and have-nots, but updated to include Mr. Gates, the current “captain.” Least impressive is the title track, a cover of “We Shall Overcome,” which, unlike the rest, is more pretty than gritty.
This is music written during a time when everyone was invited to sing, play, dance, and hum along. When I was a kid, even the guy with the juice-harp could be a star. It was about the meaning and the message more than the look or whether it would sell. In that way, this is honest music that should inspire good listening and meaningful reflection, and which also can spur more of us on to make songs of our own.
The intent of “The Seeger Sessions” is reminiscent of the “Nebraska” album, or Springsteen’s tribute to Harry Chapin, when he sang “Remember When The Music.” Bruce says he made this record in just three days. I think that even he still longs for the day when it’s just a bunch of friends with a pick or a washboard making music that sends a message while creating some enjoyment—and perhaps a moment’s respite—in the process.