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Long Time Passing: Kronos Quartet and Friends Celebrate Pete Seeger
(Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)
Pete Seeger and protest went hand in hand. The American folk music he pioneered and popularised was marked by support for civil rights, counterculture, workers’ rights and the environment.
If you don’t know the name, you will know the music, from If I Had a Hammer to Turn, Turn, Turn, it is his legacy and those songs that are celebrated on this compilation of cover versions by the Kronos Quartet and a series of collaborators.
Seeger was adept not only at writing songs, but at adapting and amplifying cultural messages.
The Kronos Quartet – a “reimagined” string quartet whose creativity has been enhanced by collaboration with some of the world’s most accomplished composers and performers – have been ploughing a similar furrow for over 40 years.
The two concepts combine on this double album of covers that takes the listener on a tour on protest, struggle and hope.
From the opener Which Side Are You On which exhorts the listener to be either a union man or a thug for (JH) Blair, to the call to arms of Step By Step, this is an interesting mix of classical strings, simple voices and a pure message.
Garbage is a jaunty track on waste that mutates into a treatise on the failings of capitalism, while the internationalist flavour sees songs shift from India with Ram Dhun – popularised by Gandhi – to South Africa and a traditional if slightly twisted version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, by way of the Spanish Civil War and Maria Amal’s voice extolling the International Brigades on Jarama Valley.
Storyteller – an odd 16-minute track midway through – actually showcases both the scope of Seeger and the quality of the Kronos Quartet as spoken word and strings combine to tell Seeger’s backstory.
And the album ends with a rousing, rightful and reviving We Shall Overcome: Seeger was said to have changed the lyrics from “We will” to the more singable ‘We Shall”. This acknowledged anthem of the civil-rights movement lives on and remains as important today as 50 years ago.
This is a fitting, thoughtful and just tribute to the music and mastery of a man that stood for the ordinary worker, the dispossessed, those discriminated against and those who fought back.
Inspired by protest, driven by action, delivering change because change has got to come, it’s a welcome addition and listen to any collection.
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