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A Boss Nod to Seeger: 'We Shall Overcome'

A loose, fun, freewheeling energy dominates the new Bruce Springsteen CD, from the very first strains of songs like Old Dan Tucker, Jesse James, Erie Canal and others -- songs first made popular by folk music icon Pete Seeger.

Springsteen, aka The Boss, may have a reputation as a rock 'n' roller, but he also treats American folk music with great reverence. For his latest project, Springsteen and a group of great traditional musicians all jammed into his farmhouse living room and started recording, without rehearsals, arrangements or overdubs. The live, unfiltered approach fits the old-time music well.

Many of Springsteen's best rock songs are animated by the same impulses that drive traditional folk music -- underdog tales of economic desperation and dashed dreams, but also of hope and defiance in the face of long odds.

Pete Seeger never had Springsteen's voice or his band, but somehow he conveyed all the fresh political and emotional overtones that lay hidden in every old song he played. There was always a reason for Seeger's song choices, and his music resonated deeply during the Vietnam War.

And that's the one quibble that I have with Springsteen's reworking of these chestnuts -- he doesn't seem to have any real sense of placing the songs in context, or trying to make them feel relevant to a present-day audience. He's mostly content just to have a good time playing them -- and, for this time around anyway, maybe that's good enough.

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Christian Bordal
Christian Bordal is a Norwegian-American (via Australia) musician, radio producer, and freelance music journalist who contributes regularly to Day to Day. He's very good at making faces and making a fool of himself, and he once impressed his NPR editors with a drunken recitation of the gibberish poem "Jabberwocky." He briefly considered launching a career performing at children's parties, but he finds his own children to be trouble enough. In addition to this list of remarkable professional accomplishments, he is a producer at member station KCRW in Los Angeles.