Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Peggy Seeger is coming to Montreal

Peggy Seeger, a legendary member of a legendary folk music family, life and musical partner to the late Ewan MacColl, and a familiar voice on Folk Roots/Folk Branches – she was a guest on the show twice – is returning to Montreal to open this season’s Wintergreen Concert Series on Friday, September 11, 8:00 pm, at Petit Campus, 57 Prince Arthur East. Call Hello Darlin’ Productions at 514-524-9225 to reserve tickets.

This is a concert not to be missed by anyone interested in traditional folk music or in finely-crafted, insightful, passionate and compelling songwriting that’s informed by traditional music.

Here are some reviews of Peggy’s recordings, beginning with her latest album, that I’ve written over the past 15 or so years for Sing Out! Magazine.

Bring Me Home

Bring me Home is the final installment in a trilogy of albums – the first two were Heading for Home and Love Calls Me Home – mostly devoted to traditional songs that Peggy heard growing up as the daughter of famed musicologist Charles Seeger and composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, and as the sister and half-sister of Mike, older by two years, and Pete, 16 years her senior.

The album begins with a powerful, a cappella rendition of “Peacock Street,” Aunt Molly Jackson’s first-person account of a poor and homeless person driven to stealing from a rich man in order to survive. Next, Peggy brings out the banjo for a version of “Hang Me,” featuring strong harmonies by sons Calum and Neill MacColl. She introduces her guitar playing with the familiar “Wagoner’s Lad,” and later plays concertina on a lovely version of “O the Wind and Rain.”

Among the other highlights are a gorgeous version of “Dink’s Song,” the bluesy lament collected in Texas a century ago by John Lomax, and banjo-driven versions of “Roving Gambler” and “Little Birdie.” I think the latter, in particular, shows the influence of brother Mike.

As on the two previous CDs in the trilogy, Peggy includes a title song from her own pen. “Bring Me Home” is a tribute to the loved ones with whom she’s made music over the course of her life, to the various homes in which she’s made that music, and to the songs themselves. Among those to whom she refers, beginning with infancy and carrying through to today, are her parents, her brothers, her husband, the late Ewan MacColl, and more recent partner, Irene Pyper-Scott. Singing about how their memories always bring her home is a lovely way to end both this CD and the three-CD trilogy.

--Mike Regenstreif

Love Calls Me Home

Love Calls Me Home is the second of a three-album trilogy that Peggy Seeger is releasing of primarily traditional folksongs. I say primarily because she does include a couple of her own, traditionally-oriented, songs in the program. Many of these songs, like “Careless Love,” “Logan County Jail,” and “Who Killed Cock Robin?” are ones that she’s probably known or sung for many decades and she brings to them the weight of her performer’s experience. Among Peggy’s collaborators here are Irene Pyper-Scott, with whom she has worked extensively in recent years, and her children Calum, Neill and Kitty MacColl, who have, no doubt like their mother, lived with this music all of their lives. The cover photo of Peggy playing harmonica as a young child is priceless.

--Mike Regenstreif

Period Pieces

On Period Pieces, Peggy Seeger gathers together 17 topical songs written and recorded over several decades that deal with such issues as violence against women, the disappeared of Chile during the Pinochet regime and the struggle against nuclear arms. Some, like a new version of her classic "I'm Gonna Be An Engineer," were recorded especially for this CD, others were gathered from recorded archives. While some of these songs may seem dated in that they deal with issues (e.g. apartheid in South Africa) that have passed from the headlines, they are an important reminder of struggles that should not be forgotten any time soon.

--Mike Regenstreif

Classic Peggy Seeger

An Odd Collection

These two new 70-plus minute CDs contrast two sides of Peggy Seeger's artistry. Classic Peggy Seeger is an assortment of traditional folk songs drawn from four Topic LPs recorded between 1958 and 1964 while the newly-recorded An Odd Collection showcases Peggy as a mature and masterful singer-songwriter.

Peggy, in her twenties when the songs on Classic Peggy Seeger were recorded, grew up in one of the most famous of folk music families and was an accomplished singer and multi-instrumentalist who moved effortlessly from banjo to guitar and other stringed instruments. The material on this disc concentrates on American versions of songs from the Anglo-ballad tradition and includes wonderful versions of "The Lady of Carlisle," "The Cruel War Is Raging" and "Come All Ye Fair and Tender Maidens." There are also several cuts like "Cumberland Gap" and a medley that includes "Shady Grove" that showcase her skill at old-timey music. Peggy's adaptation of an 1895 poem, "Englewood Mine," to a traditional tune, presages Peggy's commitment to political folk music.

Peggy performs solo on the 1958 and 1962 recordings. The 1964 sessions, which comprise the last third of the CD, feature accompaniment from and several duets with, Tom Paley, an original member -- with Peggy's brother Mike -- of the New Lost City Ramblers. Although the recordings on Classic Peggy Seeger are between three and four decades old, they sound remarkably fresh and vital.

On the exceptional An Odd Collection, Peggy offers up 18 original songs -- and one spoken word performance -- that reveal her to be a perspicacious commentator on both personal and political issues and a gifted composer, lyricist and singer. Among other topics, Peggy sings about the environment, the drudgery of housework, women's reproductive rights and the toll of unemployment.

While I'd be hard pressed to come up with a weak song in this bunch, I will call attention to a few of the best. "It's A Free World," is a hilarious tale of a woman's direct action in reforming an unrepentant smoker from imposing his toxins on everybody else. Unfortunately the song is but a fantasy; it's a delightful one though. "Old Friend" is a moving tribute to the late Ralph Rinzler on which Peggy's guitar and voice are backed up by the autoharp and harmonies of her brother Mike. In the anthemic "If You Want A Better Life," Peggy calls both for union solidarity and for union members to insure that their unions do not forget what they're there for. "Emily" is a moving ballad about a battered woman, her abuser and the safety that she found in a women's shelter.

A couple of songs speak directly to Peggy's own family life. "On This Very Day" celebrates the common date on which she met her husband and partner – the late Ewan MacColl – and on which their son got married 38 years later. "Lost" lays bare the emotions that Peggy felt at MacColl's death.

--Mike Regenstreif

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