Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
I started listening to this as a critical reviewer and within ten minutes, I was lost in the music. This is one time that being lost doesn’t cause me to go into a full panic. The songs are arranged and executed so beautifully, this is an easy listen. This is a collection of Pete Seeger original compositions as well as songs Pete performed. Seeger was a pivotal writer and musician, along with being a social and civil rights activist. Seeger was one of the early people who threw his support behind Bob Dylan.
What strikes me most about Seeger is that he was a man of high principal and could not be bought or sold. Even when it put him at risk, Pete Seeger would not abandon his beliefs. He would also continue to fight for equality, and peace up until the time that he passed away in early 2014 at 94 years old.
John McCutcheon was cut from the same cloth as his mentor. John is a social activist and also has a tremendous amount of integrity. I perused John’s touring schedule for 2019 and I found something very interesting. Most of John’s gigs for 2019, and there are a lot already, are tour stops at community centers, churches, schools, and small cafes. Clearly, John is more concerned about the musical experience and building relationships than he is about making a lot of money. That is a very optimistic sign in this year of 2019.
John partners with many of the who’s who in the folk/Americana realm. One of those partnerships includes The Steel Wheels from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. On Turn, Turn, Turn (Track 12) the musical bond between John and The Steel Wheels is stronger than Crazy Glue. Yes, this song made famous by The Byrds was written by Pete Seeger in the late 50s. And this version rivals The Byrd’s. I know that is a bold statement, but this is a very bold cover and extremely well played and sung.
Another great partnership involves John singing with Suzy Bogguss on Sailing Down My Golden River (Track 6). John’s voice is quite strong and sounds great, but when paired with Suzy’s harmonies, the word perfection comes to mind. The instrumentation on this track is blissful with the addition of strings. I can hear acoustic guitars, violins, and possibly harp. This is about as close to the heavenly bodies as you can get while still having a heartbeat.
The fact that Pete Seeger’s contributions to contemporary music and activism are sometimes overlooked is a wrong that needs to be righted. John McCutcheon’s new album of Pete Seeger originals and covers that Pete performed is a big step in the right direction. Not only are the songs and arrangements ear candy, the songs are poignant. And, this album help bring awareness to Pete Seeger’s legacy as a legendary songwriter and humanitarian.