The Boss serves up a batch of good-time folk for normal, hard-working folks
Bruce Springsteen’s best albums combine comedy and drama; for every serious moment like “Born in the U.S.A.” or “The River,” there’s a moment of wise-cracking, self-deprecating humor like “Glory Days” or “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).” His new album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions boasts the same blend, with heartbreaking songs like “Jesse James” and “Shenandoah” balanced by delightful nonsense such as “Old Dan Tucker” and “Froggie Went A-Courtin’.”
All four of these tracks are real folk songs—not the earnest confessions of a singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar and a website but the backyard party music of working folks whose names are long lost to history. These four tunes and the nine others just like them on this album were collected and adapted by Pete Seeger, who began as Woody Guthrie’s sidekick, enjoyed hit singles as one of The Weavers and became godfather of the folk-music movement from the ’50s through the ’90s.
Springsteen arranges the tunes not as the bare-bones folk music of The Ghost of Tom Joad nor as the anthemic rock ’n’ roll of Born To Run but as his own backyard party music with loose, off-the-cuff vocals backed by accordion, fiddle, banjo, washboard and horns. It’s as if an old-time string band from the Smoky Mountains met a Dixieland brass band from New Orleans at a New Jersey picnic. At long last, Springsteen has realized that not every album has to be an attempted masterpiece; sometimes it’s better to imitate Willie Nelson and record the results of wherever your curiosity leads you.