PETE SEEGER BIG BILL BROONZY – Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University (Echoes ECHO2CD2077)

Cahn AuditoriumAnother recording from the vaults is Pete Seeger and Big Bill Broonzy from the Cahn Auditorium at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, 1956 – a time in which McCarthyism was rife and the blacklist meant that performances in college and university campuses were Seeger’s main outlet. The performance is unscripted and unplanned, but in its own way, quite formal; with Seeger and Broonzy taking turns at listening to and performing for each other – occasionally performing together.

Seeger’s repertoire is vast, and draws from student songs, children’s songs, hits recorded by The Weavers (‘Kisses Sweeter Than Wine’) as well as his own compositions like ‘The Goofing Off Suite’. Of course, traditional, folkie standards are an important part of the set too; ‘Mrs McGrath’ and ‘This Train Is Bound For Glory’, for instance, which inspired the Bruce Springsteen Seeger Sessions LP and subsequent tour just over a decade ago. Alongside these, are folk songs from other corners of the globe; the Seeger staple, ‘Wimoweh’ from South Africa; songs in the Spanish language like ‘Que Bonita Bandera’, (a patriotic Puerto Rican anthem) and a devotional Hindu song, widely popularised by Mahatma Gandhi, titled ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’.

As always, Big Bill Broonzy’s performances are exceptional and his accompanying guitar work is stunning; ‘Glory of True Love’ and ‘Willie Mae’ on disc 1 are good examples of this, as is, a well picked rendition of ‘John Henry’ on disc 2, which really enables Broonzy to thoroughly demonstrate his talents.

This is a recording of two legendary artists on top form and in their prime. Their songs and performances don’t need my endorsement, and more than speak for themselves, making for a mighty fine double album with a great collection of songs, which are a pleasure to listen to whether you are just discovering or merely re-discovering the music of Pete Seeger and Big Bill Broonzy.

Christopher James Sheridan

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‘Midnight Special’ live at Cahn Auditorium: