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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Again, there is no relevant web-site but the album is available from the usual websites.

‘Midnight Special’ live at Cahn Auditorium:

BILLY BRAGG & JOE HENRY – Shine A Light (Cooking Vinyl COOKCD623)

Shine A LightBilly Bragg is fine songwriter but I do enjoy it when he goes off piste like this but Shine A Light is rather more in Joe Henry’s territory. The album is subtitled “Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad” but the inclusion of MOR standards like ‘Gentle On My Mind’ and ‘Early Morning Rain’ stretch the point a bit.

The album opens with ‘Rock Island Line’, a prison song possibly referring to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad  In fact, the album was recorded during various stops on a railroad journey from Chicago to Los Angeles; no fancy studios so what you might take for found sound is simply what was happening around the musicians. The song recorded in Chicago was Jean Ritchie’s wonderful ‘The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore’ and you can trace their journey on the album website – or you will when the album is released in a couple of month’s time. So far, we know that ‘Railroad Bill’ was recorded in St. Louis but what happens in Fort Worth, El Paso and Tucson we’ll have to wait and see.

For a basically simple concept, Billy and Joe work in some neat tricks. They divide ‘Rock Island Line’ by singing half a line each on opposite channels (Billy is on the left, of course) and for ‘Lonesome Whistle’, Billy reaches down into his boots for a bass vocal line which he finds again for Sara Carter’s ‘Railroading On The Great Divide’. Essentially though, this is two guys, two guitars and a harmonica enjoying each other’s musical company. Johnny Cash’s ‘Waiting For A Train’ is another top track, perfectly suited to this laid-back approach as is Woody Guthrie’s ‘Hobo’s Lullaby’ but I’m still not sure about ‘Gentle On My Mind’.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Midnight Special’ – somewhere in America: