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American Industrial Ballads

Pete Seeger

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Album Review

Pete Seeger presents a history of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on working people on American Industrial Ballads, a collection of 24 songs (over half of them shorter than two minutes each) sequenced in chronological order by date of composition, to the extent that this can be determined, from the early-1800s appearance of "Peg and Awl," in which a worker struggles to keep up with a machine, to songs written by Woody Guthrie and Les Rice in the 1940s. Only a couple of songs are well known, and those don't fit the concept perfectly. "The Buffalo Skinners," an account of cowboys who kill their overseer after he refuses to pay them, and "Casey Jones," the famous tale of a train wreck, are both somewhat tangential to industrial concerns, though they do fit themes heard throughout the album: first, employers' abuse of workers, who then must fight back (although usually by starting unions and going out on strike); and second, the relationship between an individual worker and the system of machinery he encounters. As the album goes on, the workers' complaints about ill treatment and low pay become more extreme, and eventually the need for unions to represent them seems overwhelming. Even then, the bosses respond with violence, as Seeger documents in such songs as Jim Garland's "The Death of Harry Simms" and Della Mae Graham's "Ballad of Barney Graham," both true stories of murdered union men. Accompanying himself mostly on banjo and sometimes guitar, Seeger presents the songs straightforwardly with only occasional flourishes, intent on getting the meanings across, although occasionally his desire to lead singalongs comes out, such as in "Raggedy," when he provides cues to sing each verse, even though he's performing alone in a recording studio. Many of these songs are too harrowing to sing along to, though. Taken together, they chronicle a century and a half of the efforts of farmers, textile workers, and miners, primarily, to get what they deserve from increasingly rich and powerful captains of industry.

Biography

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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