Bruce Springsteen's new CD, a tribute to Pete Seeger, is the kind of thing that would have given the folkies of my day apoplexy. I mean, like, man, it's not "authentic." It's not just one guy with an acoustic guitar (which Springsteen has done before, more than once, most recently on Devils and Dust). It's a guy and a chorus and a band. Guitars, sure, but also barrelhouse piano, horns, accordion, maybe a washboard, lots of other instruments. Some of the songs have been given a Dixieland feel, while others are more zydeco. I like 'em all.
Supposedly Springsteen heard most if not all these songs for the first time on albums by Pete Seeger. I heard at least four of them on Kingston Trio albums back in the day, and one on albums by both Burl Ives and the Brothers 4. Springsteen doesn't do them like any of those guys did. He does them like Springsteen. I find it hard to single out one song I like more than the others. There's the Dust Bowl humor of "My Oklahoma Home," the grade-school nostalgia kick from "Erie Canal," the church group nostalgia from "Jacob's Ladder," the kick-out-the jams fun of "Old Dan Tucker," "Oh, Mary, Don't you Weep," "Old Dan Tucker," "Pay Me My Money Down," "John Henry," and "Jesse James." There's the quiet power of "Mrs. McGrath," "Shenandoah," "Eyes on the Prize," and the title cut. The whole album is loosey-goosey, and it sounds like everybody involved is having a heck of a good time, which is just the way a folk album should sound. Sure, some of the songs are solemn, and I'm certain there are contemporary political references to be inferred, but I don't see how anybody could listen without smiling most of the time. In fact, I think I'll listen to it again right now.