V. A. – Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger(1998)
After listening to this multi-artist two-CD celebration of Pete Seeger’s songs, you’ll be delighted to read in the liner notes that it’s “just the beginning of at least four volumes.” Producer Jim Musselman calls the package a “labor of love,” and that’s clearly what it was. Musselman did a terrific job of choosing the songs from Seeger’s vast repertoire, and of matching each tune with an artist “based on either the philosophical fit between the artist and the message of the song and/or their unique musical style.” Even the extensive liner notes — which include info on each performer, plus comments on every song by Seeger and the performer — testify to the effort that went into the project. The result is one of the most consistently successful tribute albums on the market.
The material is wonderful; whether you think of Seeger primarily as an interpreter or a crusader for social justice, you’ll be impressed by this reminder of just how many classic tunes he has written or cowritten and how many topics he’s covered — everything from the Byrds-popularized “Turn, Turn, Turn” (Bruce Cockburn) to the lullaby “One Grain of Sand” (Odetta) to “Kisses Sweeter than Wine” (Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt).
The performers, who range in age from five to 85, are a motley crew; and while they include more than a few obscure artists who apparently made the grade because they happen to be signed to Appleseed or its affiliated labels, the collection also features lots of big names. More importantly, nearly all of the 39 recordings are first-rate. Among the many highlights: Bruce Springsteen’s gentle reading of “We Shall Overcome”; Greg Brown’s “Sailing Down My Golden River”; Roger McGuinn’s “Bells of Rhymney” (a song he first recorded with the Byrds); and Ani DiFranco’s “My Name Is Lisa Kalvelage.”
Perhaps most touching, though, is the concluding number, Pete Seeger’s own recording of his newly written “And Still I Am Searching.” Sadly, the track does back up Seeger’s statement in the liner notes that “I hardly have any voice left.” But it also evidences the spirit that gave birth to all these songs. That spirit was still very much alive in the septuagenarian Seeger when this album was released, and thanks to his music, it will be around long after he’s gone.