Sunday, April 23, 2006

New releases this week: Bruce! Mark and Emmylou!

You know, it's funny-- I wouldn't really call myself a Bruce Springsteen fan, and the idea of an all-covers album rarely appeals to me, and yet I find myself immensely enthused about We Shall Overcome, the Pete Seeger covers album that Bruce is releasing on Tuesday. That enthusiasm is in large part due to the rave reviews that are pouring in-- like this one from Stephen Thomas Erlewine.

While the songs featured here adhere to no one specific theme -- there are work songs, spirituals, narratives, and protest songs -- it is possible to see this collection of tunes as Springsteen's subtle commentary on the political state of America, especially given Seeger's reputation as an outspoken political activist, but this record should hardly be judged as merely an old-fashioned folk record. We Shall Overcome is many things, but a creaky relic is not one of them. Springsteen has drawn from Seeger's songbook -- which he assembled in the '40s, '50s, and '60s from traditional folk songs -- and turned it into something fresh and contemporary. And even if you have no patience for (or interest in) the history of the songs, or their possible meanings, it's easy to enjoy We Shall Overcome on pure musical terms: it's a rambunctious, freewheeling, positively joyous record unlike any other in Springsteen's admittedly rich catalog.

Meanwhile, James Christopher Monger is slightly less excited about the new Mark Knopfler/Emmylou Harris duets collection.


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