Friday, July 14, 2006

Review: Song and Play Time - Pete Seeger

Long before Laurie Berkner, long before Raffi even, there was Pete Seeger. His stepmother spent a lot of time recovering folk songs from historical neglect, and her stepson put many of those on record. He was incredibly productive in doing this for Folkways Records, recording 54 albums for them. One of those albums, originally released in 1960, Seeger's Song and Play Time, received a new release on CD in 2001.

More than anything, the thing that keeps Pete Seeger's albums far from the file marked "important-but-unlistenable" is that voice. Crystal-clear and sweet, accompanied only by his adept banjo-playing, and sometimes by nothing his conviction that folk songs are worthwhile, Seeger's voice invites listeners to sit down and listen. (His voice sounds great on this remastered album.)

Until, of course, he encourages them to join in the fun. Sometimes that encouragement is for physical activity, as in "Here We Go Loopy-Loo," the precursor to the "Hokey-Pokey." (Or, since the "Hokey-Pokey" has been around since possibly the Middle Ages, perhaps it's the successor.) Sometimes the encouragement is to sing along, as in the classics "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad" and "She'll Be Comin' 'round the Mountain." (The latter, I would note, includes a lyric about killing the old red rooster -- "hack-hack" -- which got left out by Raffi and Laurie Berkner. I like the addition and it certainly puts the next line -- "We will all have chicken and dumplings" -- in much better context.) And sometimes Seeger simply wills the listener to participate, singing loudly and clapping a cappella on "Captain Jinks."

Kids age 2 through 6 will most enjoy the songs here. You can hear samples at the Folkways page for the album.

At 41 minutes in length, the album may get a bit too repetitive to listen to straight through. But it'd probably fit right in a 5-CD changer on shuffle, either with Seeger's contemporaries or with your contemporaries. And the more you're willing to sit down (or stand up) with Seeger (rather than just putting him in the car's CD player), the more you and your kids will get something out of the album. Seeger's melodious voice and enthusiasm makes this worth exploring for you and the younger kids in your life.

1 comment:

deb in sf said...

You know, I'm super nerdy about Pete Seeger and folk music, in general. I LOVE Pete Seeger. I love folk music done with the "real" lines intact. I'm not talking "folk process" here. I'm talking killing the old red rooster. I'm a total believer that kids can handle it and don't need the watered down, sweetened up, hacked apart lyrics. I think it's sort of a shame when we don't give kids credit for knowing what's art/pretend and what's real.

(done ranting, now)

And yeah, that voice. And that banjo. I mean, how amazing is it?! I loved watching my son listen to "Sam the Whaler" and "Abiyoyo" (I know, different album) the first few times with eyes SO wide and aglow. Even still, the telling really gets him.

Mr. Seeger is a total national gem. Thanks for reviewing this record.

deb in sf