Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Pete Seeger

  • The Essential Pete Seeger [Columbia/Legacy, 2005]  
  • The Complete Bowdoin College Concert 1960 [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2012] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Essential Pete Seeger [Columbia/Legacy, 2005]
Not to cry sellout, but John Hammond's deal with Seeger at Columbia seems kind of crass, re-recording classics after his voice had lost a portion of kind and tender intensity, often in cheap live versions. Folkways could compile pretty much the same repertoire more effectively. But that would mean recognizing how preachy he could get on songs with too high a sermon quotient. Beyond the cookie-cutter anti-conformism of "Little Boxes," this selection demonstrates why he was adored--the voice is too relaxed, but the songs are still strong. They include the Columbia-only "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," eminently revivable up against a war where the quicksand is dry until mixed with blood. [Recyclable]  

The Complete Bowdoin College Concert 1960 [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2012]
Aesthetically and politically, Seeger has his soft and sometimes dishonest sides. But he's a titan nonetheless, and as rock criticism's longest-running anti-folkie I'm qualified to swear that such standards as "Good Night Irene," "Wimoweh," "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore," and the magnificent "Bells of Rhymney" are as much a part of the American songbook as "White Christmas" and "Summertime"--which latter, as it happens, Seeger anointed at Bowdoin in 1960, one of the thousands of solo shows he played during his 17-year blacklist. There are Harry Smith picks, "Old Dan Tucker," "Big Rock Candy Mountain," a just-germinating "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," a cutting soldiers-as-workers song called "D-Day Dodgers," and not much dreck at all--luckily, Malvina Reynolds hasn't written "Little Boxes" yet. Impeccable yet conversational, as avuncular singing as talking, Seeger evokes the folk far more cannily than most patricians, and his beloved banjo provides exactly as much unassuming musicality as he needs. He recorded hundreds more songs. But these two discs serve his legend well. A-

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