Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday With The Boss - Part 14: We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

On April 25th, 2006, Springsteen fans got a, unwanted for some, detour from the traditional idea of what a "Springsteen Record" was. Stemming from a jam session with a band that was hired to play a party at the Springsteen home, Bruce embarked on recording a set of traditional songs, ostensibly connected by being part of Pete Seeger's songbook. The result was We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.

The recording of this album was an intermittent project, over many years. Occasionally, Bruce would gather musicians and record a few tracks. It was not an "in and out, it's done" proposition. I'd almost call it a hobbyist project. When Bruce spoke of it, it almost seemed that way.

Now, for myself, I always felt like the Seeger connection was pretty weak. It seemed like it was fairly quickly forgotten. By the time Springsteen went on the road for this disk, his backing band was known simply as "The Sessions Band."

I don't know if, at some point, Springsteen felt that simply putting out an album of covers of traditional American tunes wasn't a cohesive enough statement, and settled upon the Seeger tribute as an additional reasoning. I think the sheer exuberance and fun that oozes from this record was all the reason that was needed. There's a real sense of liberation in these songs, a bucking of expectations.

These aren't Springsteen-penned songs, they're not rock n' roll, The E-Street Band isn't involved. The reactions, that I saw, among the fanbase went from joy over a really fun detour, to resentment. A lot of people felt like Devils & Dust and this record, especially, were taking time and energy away from the reformed E-Street Nation, right when the momentum was high. Critics, however, ate up this record, and I found a lot of people, non-believers, really took to it. I heard, "I don't really like Springsteen, but this is great!" a lot.

For myself, I had a great deal of fun with this album, and the tour was joyous. The Sessions Band was an amazing collection of players, and the shows were as high in energy as any tour with The E-Street Band. Sure, there's a few tracks that leave me cold, that just kinda plod onward. Erie Canal starts out well, but then just seems to run out of gas, and We Shall Overcome, for being the title track, really feels uninspired, almost like it's obligatory. That doesn't take back from the goofy grin I get listening to Old Dan Tucker, Pay Me My Money Down, or Froggie Went A-Courtin'.

One thing you can say is that, for a side-project, detour-type thing, Springsteen committed to it. The tour was long, and traveled all over the world. My understanding was that the concept was much better received in Europe, as in the US, The Sessions Band played to less-than-full capacity on a regular basis. Many Springsteen fans simply refused to attend.

A damn shame, in my opinion. These shows were full of great music, expertly played, with tons of showmanship from the, I think it was seventeen, musicians onstage. Bruce also re-cast several of his songs to work in the format, including Blinded By the Light, Growin' Up and Open all Night. Frankly, the Sessions Band version of the latter is my favorite version of the song, hands down.

As the tour continued, a expanded version of the album was released, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions - American Land Edition has to be the longest album title in Springsteen history. The added material was quite good, especially a version of How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live with a Springsteen-written verse connecting to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (which was the location of the Sessions Band's first live gig.) Also included was the only Springsteen song written for the project, American Land. The song has been a staple of not only the Sessions Band shows, but also E-Street Band shows, ever since.

If you're going to pop for a copy of this album, I would definitely recommend the American Land Edition over the original.

I , of course, have both. Ahhh...fandom.

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