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We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions [Bonus Tracks]

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions [Bonus Tracks]

5.0 5
by Bruce Springsteen

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It wasn't hard to predict that Bruce Springsteen would follow up the comparatively downbeat Devils & Dust with an album that ratcheted up the energy a few notches -- but not even the most careful Boss watcher could have predicted the contents of We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, which has been expanded extensively for


It wasn't hard to predict that Bruce Springsteen would follow up the comparatively downbeat Devils & Dust with an album that ratcheted up the energy a few notches -- but not even the most careful Boss watcher could have predicted the contents of We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, which has been expanded extensively for this updated edition. Since Springsteen has always been one to let the music do the talking, it's fitting that he jimmies several more topical tunes into this version of The Seeger Sessions -- including Pete's still-resonant Vietnam War screed "Bring 'Em Home" and "American Land," a workingman's lament that Bruce adapted from one of Seeger's archival pieces. Even on the songs that didn't originate with Seeger, the spirit of the folk legend shines through -- in Springsteen originals like the wounded-soldier lament "Mrs. McGrath" and in the staunch, placard-carrying attitude that imbues so many others. Instead of doctrinaire folk simplicity, however, Bruce envelops the songs in rollicking melodies, some launched skyward by upwards of a dozen musicians at once. The disc isn't entirely given over to soapbox screeds, however. In fact, Springsteen gets downright goofy on a passel of tracks -- like a hootin'-and-hollerin' version of the campfire classic "Froggy Went a Courtin' " -- that walk the sunnier side of the folk street. It's endearing to hear the king of the Jersey streets find his way through the thickets of accordion, tuba, and such -- the aural equivalent of traversing an unmarked road. He handles the terrain remarkably well. Knowing when to crack wise -- he name-checks Bill Gates in the sharecropper standard "Pay Me My Money Down" -- and when to play it straight, as on "Shenandoah," one of the disc's few outright ballads. The DVD portion of the set -- considerably more thought out than most such additions in its initial incarnation -- is expanded significantly here, with the original documentary now flanked by a pair of music videos and some freshly recorded concert footage. The latter element, highlighted by a fierce version of "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live," underscores the vitality and continued evolution of the project. There's so much going on -- in terms of instruments, arrangements, and ideas -- that it's hard to grasp it all on first listen. Then again, the warmth and passion exuded throughout make it easy to go back for seconds.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions is an unusual Bruce Springsteen album in a number of ways. For starters, it's the first covers album Springsteen has recorded in his three-decade career, which is a noteworthy event in itself, but that's not the only thing different about We Shall Overcome. A notorious perfectionist who has been known to tweak and rework albums numerous times before releasing them (or scrapping them, as the case may be), Springsteen pulled together the album quickly, putting aside a planned second volume of the rarities collection Tracks after discovering a set of recordings he made in 1997 for a Pete Seeger tribute album called Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger. Enthralled by this handful of tracks -- one of which, "We Shall Overcome," appeared on that tribute -- Springsteen decided to cut a whole album of folk tunes popularized by Pete Seeger. He rounded up 13 musicians, including some who played on those 1997 sessions, and did two one-day sessions in late 2005 and early 2006, swiftly releasing the resulting album that April. As Springsteen stresses in his introductory liner notes, these were live recordings, done with no rehearsals, and We Shall Overcome does indeed have an unmistakably loose feel, and not just because you can hear the Boss call out chord changes in a handful of songs. This music is rowdy and rambling as the group barrels head-first into songs that they're playing together as a band for the first time, and it's hard not to get swept up in their excitement. Springsteen has made plenty of great records, but We Shall Overcome is unique in its sheer kinetic energy; he has never made a record that feels as alive as this. Not only does We Shall Overcome feel different than his other work; it also feels different than Seeger's music. Most of Seeger's recordings were spare and simple, featuring just him and his banjo; his most elaborately produced records were with the Weavers, whose recordings of the '50s did feature orchestration, yet that's a far cry from the big folk band that Springsteen uses here. His combo for the Seeger sessions has a careening, ramshackle feel that's equal parts early-'60s hootenanny and Bob Dylan and the Band's Americana; at times, its ragged human qualities also recall latter-day Tom Waits, although the music here is nowhere near as self-consciously arty as that. Springsteen has truly taken Seeger's music as inspiration, using it as the starting point to take him someplace that is uniquely his own in sheer musical terms. Given that, it should be no great surprise that he also picks through Seeger's songbook in a similar fashion, leaving many (if not most) of Seeger's well-known songs behind in favor of a selection of folk standards which Springsteen learned by listening to Seeger's recordings. (Author/critic Dave Marsh researched the origins of each song here; there are brief introductions in the album's liner notes and thorough histories presented on the official Springsteen site.) While the songs featured adhere to no one specific theme -- there are work songs, spirituals, narratives, and protest songs -- it is possible to see this collection of tunes as Springsteen's subtle commentary on the political state of America, especially given Seeger's reputation as an outspoken political activist, but this disc should hardly be judged as merely an old-fashioned folk record. We Shall Overcome is many things, but a creaky relic is not one of them. Springsteen has drawn from Seeger's songbook -- which he assembled in the '40s, '50s, and '60s from traditional folk songs -- and turned it into something fresh and contemporary. And even if you have no patience for (or interest in) the history of the songs, or their possible meanings, it's easy to enjoy We Shall Overcome on purely musical terms: it's a rambunctious, freewheeling, positively joyous record unlike any other in Springsteen's admittedly rich catalog. [Columbia reissued the album in 2006, adding five bonus tracks and additional video content, including four live tour videos. Unlike the original release, this reissue is not a DualDisc.]
Rolling Stone - Jonathan Ringen
[Springsteen's] most jubilant disc since Born in the U.S.A. and more fun than a tribute to Pete Seeger has any right to be.
Entertainment Weekly - David Browne
We Shall Overcome lets us revel in the sound of a man who no longer confuses unplugged with uninspiring -- and who isn't afraid to mix in some merriment with the message. (A-)
Austin Chronicle - Jim Caligiuri
The word "rollicking" was invented for music such as this, spontaneous and free-spirited. It's music-making for the pure joy of it, and that delight overflows in a manner that's truly rare.

Product Details

Release Date:


Disc 1

  1. Old Dan Tucker
  2. Jesse James
  3. Mrs. McGrath
  4. O Mary Don't You Weep
  5. John Henry
  6. Erie Canal
  7. Jacob's Ladder
  8. My Oklahoma Home
  9. Eyes on the Prize
  10. Shenandoah
  11. Pay Me My Money Down
  12. We Shall Overcome
  13. Froggie Went a Courtin'
  14. Buffalo Gals
  15. Held Up Without a Gun
  16. How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live
  17. Bring 'Em Home
  18. American Land

Disc 2

  1. John Henry
  2. Pay Me My Money Down
  3. Buffalo Gals
  4. Erie Canal
  5. None But the Brave
  6. Jacob's Ladder
  7. Froggie Went a Courtin'
  8. Shenandoah
  9. How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live
  10. Bring 'Em Home
  11. American Land
  12. Pay Me My Money Down
  13. Bonus Material

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Bruce Springsteen   Primary Artist,Guitar,Harmonica,Mandolin,Percussion,Piano,Hammond Organ,Tambourine,Vocals
Marc Anthony Thompson   Guitar,Vocals
Patti Scialfa   Guitar,Vocals
Art Baron   Mandolin,Tuba,Penny Whistle
Mark Clifford   Banjo,Vocals
Larry Eagle   Percussion,Drums,Vocals
Clark Gayton   Trombone
Charlie Giordano   Piano,Accordion,Hammond Organ,Vocals,Pump Organ
Curtis Rance King   Vocals
Lisa Lowell   Vocals
Cindy Mizelle   Vocals
Mark Pender   Trumpet,Vocals
Marty Rifkin   Dobro,Pedal Steel Guitar
Richie Rosenberg   Trombone,Vocals
Soozie Tyrell   Violin,Vocals
Curt Ramm   Trumpet
Frank Bruno   Guitar,Vocals
Sam Bardfeld   Violin,Vocals
Greg Liszt   Banjo
Ed Manion   Saxophone,Vocals

Technical Credits

Guy Carawan   Composer,Adaptation,Lyric Adaptations
Blind Alfred Reed   Composer
Pete Seeger   Composer,Adaptation,Lyric Adaptations
Bruce Springsteen   Arranger,Composer,Producer,Liner Notes,Adaptation
Frank Hamilton   Composer,Adaptation,Lyric Adaptations
Agnes "Sis" Cunningham   Composer
Zilphia Horton   Composer,Adaptation,Lyric Adaptations
Toby Scott   Engineer
Alice Wine   Composer
Christopher Austopchuk   Art Direction
Jim Musselman   Composer
Traditional   Composer
Michelle Holme   Art Direction
Doris Plenn   Adaptation
John Cooper   Engineer

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We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions [Bonus Tracks] 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The CD/DVD is great. Q. This product for $15.72 has two discs, w/ some songs on both. Is the 2nd disc w/ 13 songs a DVD? Else, why are there two discs w/ the same songs?