Springsteen's street corner and tavern music

Springsteen's street corner and tavern music

In the United States, when one thinks of folk, civil and protest music, two names immediately come to mind: Woody Guthrie And Pete Seeger. Noble fathers of songwriting that established itself in the 1960s, influencing more than one generation of musicians, starting with Bob Dylan And Bruce Springsteen.

Woody Guthrie he left us relatively young, in 1967, at the age of 55, while Pete Seeger passed away on January 27, 2014 at the age of ninety-four. A long and dense life, anti-militaristic and fervent environmentalist, a career that began in the late 1930s right from his meeting with Woody Guthrieseven years his senior.

To this hero of American folk music Bruce Springsteen he dedicated his fourteenth studio album which he titled “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions”. In the album, released on April 25, 2006, the Boss takes up some songs written by Seeger and others taken from the folk tradition made popular by Pete Seeger. In the lines below we invite you to read the review of that album published by us Alfredo Marziano.

Here's some good, and perhaps unexpected, news: Bruce Springsteen still has something new to say about American folk music. He closes the circle, and reminds us that such a wide, long and winding path can be followed in many different ways. In perfect solitude, voice and guitar, as in the “Tom Joad” and “Devils & dust” tours. Or with a small battalion of voices and instruments, as happens in this collection of classics and traditional triggered by the participation, way back in 1997, in an album by various artists in homage to Pete Seeger (it was titled “Where have all the flowers gone”) and completed between last year and the first months of 2006 in the course of two very rapid daily recording sessions, no rehearsals, improvised arrangements and everything handed over to posterity live.

There is no rock & roll Boss on this album. Rather, a leader of the people who incites and warms up a disheveled and irresistible Brancaleone army in which everyone informally wears the clothes that are most comfortable for them, bluegrass banjo and violin, Dixieland brass, gospel choirs, washboard and jug band double bass.

It works, due to the bold enthusiasm they put into it and the intrinsic strength of the songs (thirteen titles in the American edition, two more in the European one). They are all at least a hundred years old or so, yet they don't look it. Lively, energetic, combative, full of hope, current as music always is which arises spontaneously, in every era, from genuine popular feelings: in Scotland, Ireland or America, among sailors who suffer from homesickness, workers who they toil on the railways, perhaps killing themselves, people forced to wander in search of work, street minstrels who tell tales of bandits who “steal from the rich to give to the poor” and black slaves who dream of a better future with their eyes closed.

Having grown up with Roy Orbison and Phil Spector, Springsteen arrived there gradually on his backward journey which from Dylan led him back to Guthrie and then, indeed, to Seeger: the civil rights and trade union activist who, despite lacking the talent and Woody's charisma has always had fire inside and a clear mission in mind, to preserve and renew popular tradition.

All included in his endless repertoire, these are really good songs for all seasons and all eras, if it is true that (as journalist Dave Marsh explains in a song-by-song analysis that acts as a very useful corollary to listening) “Froggie went a-courtin' ”, taken up by Guthrie and Dylan themselves, the Scottish shepherds of the sixteenth century were already singing it; that “Mrs. McGrath”, born in the era of the Napoleonic wars, became the anthem of the Irish patriots during the Easter uprisings of 1916; and that the sacred hymn of “Eyes on the prize”, recorded again by Dylan in his 1962 debut album with the title “Gospel plow”, became a “must” in the student sit-ins of the 60s and in rallies of anti-racist movements.

However, don't think of entering a museum to admire beautiful musical figurines embalmed or preserved in mothballs; also because Springsteen and the picturesque congregation of New Yorkers put together by violinist Soozie Tyrell (the only E Streeter on board, together with his wife Patti Scialfa), choose a carefree, amused, even raucous approach, often and willingly mixing the cards with little philological respect. Reinforced as it is by the crossfire of sax, trumpet, trombone and tuba, the spiritual of “Oh, Mary don't you weep” seems to come straight from the Preservation Hall in New Orleans, and “Pay me my money down” also smells It's from Louisiana thanks to the Cajun timbre of the accordion: all the more fitting that the tour that follows the album's release will kick off from the hurricane-scarred Crescent City on April 30th.

Between square dances And minstrel songs, dustbowl ballads and protest songs, many titles are well known to lovers of American Music (“John Henry” and “Jacob's ladder”, for example), and others are also very familiar to rock audiences. “We shall overcome” above all, of course, which here is reread in contrast in an intimate, almost whispered version: as if Bruce were held back by a realistic sense of modesty, when with his chorus he sings a line like “we will live in peace/one day ”. And then there outlaw song “Jesse James”, already performed by Bob Seger, Country Joe, Ry Cooder and many others, or the beautiful “Shenandoah” which everyone has sung, from soldiers of the American cavalry to Van Morrison with the Chieftains.

Music “from the street corner, from the living room, from the tavern, from desolate expanses, from the circus, from the church, from the sewers” writes Bruce in the liner notes, and the content of these “Seeger sessions” really couldn't be explained better. Music for dancing and words for thinking/not forgetting, pessimism of reason and optimism of hope served in a single dish. Bruce cooked it with his cheerful company in the living room of his farmhouse, seasoning it with some nice accompanying alcoholic drinks. A reinforced concrete building next to a motorway isn't quite the same thing: but at the Assago Forum, on May 12th, there will certainly be something to have fun and warm your heart.