We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

Bruce Springsteen

Columbia, 2006

http://www.brucespringsteen.net

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/10/2006

Bruce Springsteen has the maddening ability to craft mind-blowingly brilliant albums and make music with no soul at all. For every Born To Run, there has been a Devils & Dust, and when I first heard the concept for We Shall Overcome, there was no doubt in my mind it was going to be one of the latter.

First off, why the hell did The Boss feel the need to record an album of all covers? He's one of the greatest songwriters of the rock era, making this seem lazy. And second, why pick nothing but incredibly old folk/country tunes? Surely this was just an exercise in indulgence, another stab at an "important" record, as Daily Vault Editor Jason Warburg might say.

Sweet Baby James, how horribly wrong I was. This is a brilliant record that very few artists could have pulled off. Maybe it lacks the emotional resonance of The Rising, or the fist-pumping arena rock anthems of Born In The U.S.A., but We Shall Overcome is easily one of Springsteen's best albums since Born To Run, as well as my first candidate for album of the year.

Admittedly, if I had given this disc a spin a few months ago, the praise would not have been gushing forth as it is now. I simply did not have the appreciation for this kind of music. But thanks to my excursions into the music of Johnny Cash, Dylan, and a gaggle of other country/folk singers, the songs off my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 We Shall Overcome speak to me.

This is music that one simply doesn't hear on the radio or watch on American Idol. Music like this is the roots from which all that we listen today came from. Where Springsteen pulled off the coup is in somehow keeping things from descending into hokiness. A song like "Froggy Went A' Courtin'" provides the opportunity to do just that, but coming from The Boss it sounds as natural as anything else he has recorded.

We Shall Overcome's greatest selling point is the unbridled energy and joy the musicians obviously had towards this material. I don't think Springsteen has had that much fun recording an album since his early days. Most of the tracks turn into a virtual group vocal session, capturing that spirit of sitting around the campfire or a barn dance. We Shall Overcome was basically recorded in two days, so there is a definite looseness that permeates the record, and it's amazing it comes off as coherent as it does. The backing band sounds like it's been playing for years, in a brilliant display of chemistry.

While I would say folk music is the primary genre on We Shall Overcome, you can hear so much more. One of the best cuts off the disc, "Mrs. McGrath" is a reworking of an old Irish anti-war ballad. "Oh Mary Don't You Weep" is a blast of gopsel, and the backing singers are enough to make a heathen convert right there and then. The title track is delivered in bravado worthy of one of the greatest protest songs ever recorded.

While there is a jovial mood for most of the record, things do turn dark. The aforementioned "Mrs. McGrath" mourns for her son's physical losses in war. "Eyes On The Prize" offers up hope in the face of hopelessness. The burning intensity of this track sent shivers down my spine, both because of the slow plaintive cry of the fiddle and the subtle gospel-style vocals in the background.

Still, in the end We Shall Overcome reaches its pinnacle when Springsteen taps into his early 70s mode. Though the music may sound nothing like that of Greetings From Asbury Park, it shares a certain kind of musical fellowship. I don't believe We Shall Overcome was made with the intention of projecting some kind of statement on the public; instead, it is Bruce Springsteen making the kind of music he wanted to make and succeeding in every aspect. Don't miss out on this one.

Rating: A

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