Bruce Springsteen
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
2006
B



if every song was introduced with a triumphant, synthesized lead, Earth would be an inspiringly productive place. Why? Because that’s the way that anthems are expected to work. If those leads were followed by the phrase, “Born down in a dead man’s town,” the world may become filled with working class success stories. Why? Because that’s the way that poets are expected to motivate—especially poets who happen to be as ruggedly good-looking as Bruce Springsteen. But, unfortunately, few poets can be attributed with such aesthetically pleasing characteristics, fewer can write as marvellously as The Boss, and, with the release of 2006’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, Springsteen has replaced his synthesizer with a fiddle. The latter of which eliminates humanity’s chance at endless ambitions.

The album’s material features Springsteen’s most desperate vocal performance in recent memory. Although his raspy voice has noticeably aged, it has always been, and will always be his honest projection—and in We Shall Overcome, the case is the same. To make up for lost youthfulness, Springsteen’s vocals have taken on a harder, Waits-inspired sound, and are now being backed up by a mass of southern gospel harmonies, both of which add to the record’s candlelit, back porch texture. “Erie Canal” features a slow crescendo of backing vocals, one which begins with vacant noise, and then slowly grows to an intense, but never overpowering, murmur.

With New Orleans tinged string introductions and trombone outros, the sound of Dixieland is also prevalent. “Jacob’s Ladder” starts with a horn preface and leads into a sermon-inspired holler reminiscent of “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain.” The jazzy “O Mary Don’t You Weep” is one of the most engaging arrangements ever written by a politically exuberant fifty-year old. Springsteen’s original arrangements have successfully combined the album’s sonic depths in such a way that they create a particularly laid back sound. A sound that is so relaxed that we could eventually see Springsteen’s listening demographics divert from working class America, to “I’m too comfortable to work,” America.

The album’s most significant flaws are its lack of dissonance and general flow. Bluegrass songs could never be marketed as singles, but We Shall Overcome sounds as if it is a collection of them. Due to the record’s interior similarities and compilation tape feel, successive listens might be limited to those with unprecedented Springsteen obsessions.

The album was written to be a tribute to Pete Seeger, but the material in question is made up exclusively of traditional folk tunes—thirteen songs in tribute of Seeger, but not actually written by him—making Springsteen's project a tad peculiar. Novelties aside, the album’s heartening excitement conjures thoughts that Springsteen has fully transformed his dreary political image into a burning ball of enthusiastic fire. It’s a pleasant change, one which leaves We Shall Overcome as the Boss’ most lively release since Born in the USA.



Reviewed by: Dakota Mantyka
Reviewed on: 2006-08-18
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