John McCutcheon – To Everyone in All the World: A Celebration of Pete Seeger – Appalsongs 2019 – 53:11 ****1/2

It was back in 1971 that a shy, young freshman college student in Fresno, Calif. experienced the Pete Seeger effect on audiences. It was during the height of rock and roll with Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones all in their prime. To a jaded college audience, folk music was quaint and Seeger was largely considered an old fogy. Pete was already well over 50 years old in 1971.

He was equated with “Guantanamera,” “This Land is Your Land,” “Winoweh,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” For many of us, it wasn’t “cool” to sing along on old timey folk songs sung by a banjo player. However, it didn’t take Pete Seeger but ten minutes to get several hundred college students on a cold autumn evening indoors in the Student Union singing unabashedly (probably off key) with him, often times without his vocal accompaniment. The room suddenly felt cozy, and a warm glow stayed with me walking back to my dorm room. I’ll never forget that night…

Roughly 35 years later, near the end of his life, I caught Pete Seeger again. This time he was accompanied by some of his grandchildren on the Blues and Folk Saturday afternoon segment of the Monterey Jazz Festival. Pete’s singing voice was quite a bit weaker, but his “spell” on a jazz centered hip audience was just as striking and compelling.

Pete Seeger was relevant and active (with The Weavers) through the McCarthy hearings in the nations’ capital, and later on the March on Washington with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights era. If there was a just cause, Pete was often right there to lend his voice and banjo.

To honor Seeger’s life and legacy on the 100th anniversary of his birth,  the folk stalwart John McCutcheon (on 6 and 12 string guitar, hammer dulcimer, and banjo), along with many special guests—including Pete Kennedy, Tim O’Brien, Suzy Bogguss, Corey Harris, and members of Beausoleil—cover fifteen songs either associated with Pete, or written by the man himself. The CD will be released on January 11.

There is joy in the presentation, and love for the legend throughout. McCutcheon channels Seeger with his strong sweet voice, and considerable string talents. This is John’s 40th album, and a tribute that he has wanted to do for many years. It’s a labor of love.

The CD begins with “Well May the World Go” with John on banjo, and Tim O’Brien on mandolin. You can almost feel Pete there on stage as the duo blend, trading choruses, like Seeger did with others for decades. “If I Had a Hammer” co-written by Seeger and Lee Hays, was made famous by Peter, Paul, and Mary. Here, John and members of Beausoleil, give it a New Orleans vibe with Chad Huval’s accordion.

Melvina Reynold’s “God Bless the Grass” is a powerful indictment against rampant development and abuse of the poor. No Pete Seeger tribute can be complete without “Guantanamera” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” The former was a staple for Jose Feliciano, and the latter a huge hit for The Byrds.

Seeger was a life long conservationist, and he wrote “Sailing Down My Golden River” as a paean to his beloved Hudson River for which his stature assisted in its clean-up. John shares the vocals here with Suzy Bogguss. It’s a tender version,  McCutcheon’s hammer dulcimer, and Stuart Duncan’s fiddle bringing a mist to the eyes, as does Suzy’s vocals. It is followed by “Letter to Eve,” which has a jazzy night club feel with its horn accompaniment.

Pete’s affinity for the Labor movement is fully on display on the lyrics to “Mrs. Clara Sullivan’s Letter,” and “Talking Union” (given a funky read by Corey Harris). McCutcheon has long been a social activist like Pete, and his authoritative  rich vocals rival Seeger’s for passionate outrage.

“Living in the Country” is a glorious instrumental, and John’s hammer dulcimer is comfort for the soul. A ringing Tibetan bowl ends this Pete Seeger love fest with a Quaker hymn, “How Can I Keep From Singing?” an apt description for Pete’s life long passion.

There is much to love on this CD. Pete Seeger was a national treasure. John McCutcheon and friends help bring his righteous musical talents back to the forefront. Pete Seeger’s vision helps brighten our existence…

Performers:
John McCutcheon – vocals, 6 & 12 string guitars, hammer dulcimer, banjo, Tibetan singing bowl; Jon Carroll – vocals, keyboards, accordion; JT Brown – vocals, bass; Pete Kennedy – electric and acoustic guitars; Robert “Jos” Jospe – drums and percussion; Stuart Duncan – fiddle; Katia Cardenal – vocals; Suzy Bogguss – vocals; John Jennings – electric guitar; Corey Harris – vocal and electric guitar; Jamal Millner – electric guitar; Kevin Davis – percussion; Graham Breedlove – trumpet; Luke Brimhall – trombone; Antonio Orta – saxophone; Todd Harrison – percussion; TJ Johnson – mandolin.

Members of  Hot Rize: Tim O’Brien – vocals and mandolin, Nick Forster – vocals and bass; Pete Wernick – banjo; Bryan Sutton – guitar. Members of Beausoleil: Michael Doucet – fiddle, Chad Huval – accordion, Bill Ware – percussion.

Members of Finest Kind: Ian Robb – harmony vocals, Ann Downey – harmony vocals, Shelley Posen – harmony vocals.

Members of The Steel Wheels: Trent Wagler – lead and harmony vocals, Jay Lapp – harmony vocals; Brian Dickel – harmony vocals, Eric Brubaker – harmony vocals

Tracklist:
Well May the World Go
If I Had a Hammer
God Bless the Grass
Die Gedanken Sind Frei
Guantanamera
Sailing Down My Golden River
Letter to Eve
Mrs. Clara Sullivan’s Letter
Living in the Country
Talking Union
To Everyone in All the World
Turn, Turn, Turn
The Spider’s Web
Waist Deep in the Big Muddy
How Can I Keep from Singing

—Jeff Krow