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Pete SEEGER (1919-):
If I Had A Hammer (Original Recordings 1944-1950)

Pete Seeger with The Weavers, The Union Boys, Burl Ives and Lee Hays
Naxos Folk Legends 8.120737 ADD [56.47]



Crotchet Budget price

1. Cindy [2:30]
2. The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn [1:18]
3. The Erie Canal [1:35]
4. Casey Jones [1:55]
5. Solidarity Forever [2:56]
6. U.A.W-C.I.O [2:08]
7. Listen, Mr Bilbo [2:42]
8. Roll The Union On [2:43]
9. Devilish Mary [1:22]
10. Danville Girl [1:34]
11. I Had A Wife [0:40]
12. Talking Atom [2:55]
13. Newspaper Men [3:12]
14. Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase [2:43]
15. Keep My Skillet Good And Greasy [0:56]
16. 'T' For Texas [2:08]
17. John Riley [2:30}
18. Darling Corey [2:44]
19. Git Along Little Dogies [1:31]
20. Penny's Farm [1:50]
21. The Jam On Jerry's Rocks [1:39]
22. Come All Fair Maids [2:34]
23. Wasn't That A Time [2:59]
24. The Hammer Song [2:02]
25. Banks Of Marble [2:56]
26. Banjo Pieces (My Blue-Eyed Gal - Cripople Creek - Old Joe Clark - Ida Red) [2:42]

Seeger is a singer / songwriter who made it big in the '40s, following in the wake of legendary figures like Woody Guthrie, but has remained a force in the US folk scene right through to the present day, still hero-worshipped for his skills as a composer and musician - and not least for his mastery of the banjo.
This latest disc from Naxos gives us a broad selection of songs from Seeger's heyday, during and immediately after World War II, when he was belting out catchy traditional numbers like Come All Fair Maids, Casey Jones (from the '50s TV series), the cowboy song Git Along Little Dogies and Penny's Farm, as well as his own compositions, almost all of them highly politically charged and rabidly anti-Establishment - in this sense very much in the American folk tradition.
In fact the common denominator in Seeger's repertoire is his radicalism and hostility to those in authority - as when he contrasts life in a Union Town with the "cheap politics" of the mainstream parties in Congress ("Week in, week, out, and weak all over. If I Had A Hammer is itself a clarion cry against McCarthyism and the anti-communist atmosphere that prevailed in 1940s and '50s America. "I'd hammer out a warning" Seeger sings in this anthem of "brotherhood". Other numbers are even more overt in their politics - with many of the songs on this CD alone dedicated to promotion of trade unions, labour organisations and assorted left-wing causes, including Solidarity Forever, UAW-CIO and Roll The Union On.
Not featured on this CD are Seeger's later compositions, again largely concerned with political topics. Seeger was responsible for those classics of '60s people-power We shall overcome and Where Have All The Flowers Gone? and became an icon of the anti-Vietnam war movement. The Naxos sleeve notes, penned by broadcaster Cary Ginell, own up to Seeger's left-wing leanings, but neglect to mention his longstanding membership of the Communist Party - from Stalinist days onwards. Interestingly, Seeger the iconic folk musician hails not from the rustic south or mid west but from cosmopolitan New York City! 
Pete Seeger is undoubtedly a talented musician and a number of his songs are hugely memorable and catchy, but to me they are much of a muchness and there is a consistency and relentlessness to them that borders on the tedious. He is probably at his best when giving his upbeat renditions of traditional folk and country songs already well established, such as the Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase. But many of his own compositions are little more than political tirades set to music, and even then Seeger fails to make them either exciting or meaningful. A CD for dedicated Seeger fans and / or dyed-in-the-wool Marxists.
Em Marshall

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