Pete Seeger is a fascinating character; he played with the likes of Woody Guthrie in the 1940's, was blacklisted in the 50's for being a communist, allegedly tried to unplug Bob Dylan when he went electric in the 60's and recently played with Bruce Springsteen at Barack Obama's Inaugaral concert. He celebrated his 90th birthday last year and seems to have lost none of his drive and energy. You can see him being interviewed in Scorcese's documentary about Bob Dylan No Direction Home: Bob Dylan [DVD] [2005
]; he has, and always had, an old-fashioned idealism and enthusiasm that makes him an intriguing, and slightly odd character.
While Woody Guthrie and others present themselves as dust-bowl refugees, hitching a ride on a freight train as they travel from town to town, Pete Seeger's manner is that of a very eager school teacher, or even a scout-master leading you in a chorus of Kumbaya around the campfire. You can hear it in his voice on many of these songs - some even have a pompous little intro. This does rather mean that they lack a certain feeling of authenticity, or dare I say 'heart' - the songs of misery and poverty are not really about his experiences, although you cannot doubt his commitment to the cause.
The first CD in this set has several rather preachy union anthems, such as 'Which side are you on' and 'We shall not be moved', while the second has more general folk songs, including children's songs like 'Jim Crack Corn' and 'This old man, he played One'. It is not a compilation you will listen to over and over again, but for those who are interested in the history of American folk music this is worth a listen.