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American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 5

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Album Review

Notwithstanding Pete Seeger's major-label contract with Columbia Records, which commenced in 1961, Folkways Records, the tiny independent label for which he has recorded prolifically since 1950, continues to assemble albums out of its archive of unreleased tracks, and this is the fifth volume of a series of LPs dating back to 1957. American Favorite Ballads has long since become a catchall category in Seeger's catalog, easier to define by what it isn't than what it is. The albums are not live recordings; they are not children's recordings; and they are not collections of contemporary topical material, to cite three other types of LPs that are numerous among his releases. Nominally, they contain familiar traditional American folk songs like, for example, "I've Been Working on the Railroad," rendered here in Seeger's sturdy tenor voice over his banjo plucking. But in practice, he and Folkways have included songs from other sources. Here, he sings a traditional blues ("St. James Infirmary"), a "Talking Blues," and old-time country songs like "Red River Valley," "Ida Red," and the spiritual "Farther Along," as well as compositions by credited songwriters, not just "traditional," notably Jimmie Rodgers' country-blues tune "T.B. Blues" and even "Summertime," the bluesy lullaby that opens George Gershwin's "folk opera" Porgy and Bess. The point, as with the four earlier volumes, seems to be to suggest the breadth of music that can be included under the fashionable rubric of "folk" and that can be performed effectively by a single musician with his voice and one acoustic instrument.


Born: 03 May 1919 in New York, NY

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Perhaps no single person in the 20th century did more to preserve, broadcast, and redistribute folk music than Pete Seeger, whose passion for politics, the environment, and humanity earned him both ardent fans and vocal enemies ever since he first began performing in the late '30s. His battle against injustice led to his being blacklisted during the McCarthy era, celebrated during the turbulent '60s, and welcomed at union rallies throughout his life. His tireless efforts regarding global concerns...
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