- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pete Seeger
At 89
Appleseed Recordings

With the nation teetering on the brink of an economic catastrophe, it’s as good a time as any to take a look at the new album from folk singer and songwriter Pete Seeger.

He made a name for himself playing alongside Depression-era icons including Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. He worked with legendary musicologist Alan Lomax cataloging the American folk canon and added to it considerably himself with such songs as “Turn Turn Turn” and “If I Had a Hammer.”

The work is as advertised: The 89-year-old Mr. Seeger plays, chats and sings - and also mixes in a few tracks by friends. The spoken interludes aren’t exactly long-winded, but they make for an unusual listening experience. They don’t give off the intimacy of a live show, but they do have a kind of archival flavor - like an ultrahigh-fidelity Lomax recording.

Mr. Seeger’s voice wavers here and there but is surprisingly vigorous considering his advanced age. He reprises some of his more famous original songs. He sings the ballad “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” a song about the consequences of military overconfidence that became an antiwar rally staple in the 1960s.

Mr. Seeger was an early advocate of environmentalism and campaigned avidly for the cleanup of the Hudson River, which was poisoned by PCBs. He offers a few songs in this vein, including the haunting “Song of the World’s Last Whale,” written in 1970.

It’s light on the kind of agitprop and didacticism that’s typical of protest songs of the era. On the other hand, “The First Settlers,” a five-minute spoken-word allegory about the settlement of the American continent by Europeans, doesn’t meet the same standard. “It Can’t Be Reduced,” a song consisting of a bureaucratic environmental mission statement made by the city of Berkeley, Calif., set to music, is just silly.

“At 89” is best thought of as a coda to an enduring and justly celebrated career. However, unless you’re a devoted fan of Mr. Seeger’s, it doesn’t make for a great listen. The Bruce Springsteen-led hootenanny “We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions” from 2007 is a better, more spirited take on the folk canon Mr. Seeger devoted his life to preserving and transmitting.

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