Last year’s release of the 30th anniversary edition of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run found me involved in a heavy Boss-related email correspondence with fellow Blogcritics and Springsteen fans Mark Saleski and DJRadiohead. Burning up the wires with emails one afternoon, it occurred to us that we had enough to say to warrant writing an article, and so we did. And because we had more to say when we were done, we wrote another one.
On April 25, accompanied by plenty of protests from the hardcore faithful, Springsteen released his latest album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Since the emails were already flying back and forth, our overflowing inboxes suggested that fate had clearly handed us another assignment, and so the roundtable has reconvened to offer you a triple take on The Seeger Sessions.
The grumbling from the fans (and there’s always grumbling, isn’t there?) around this one has been interesting, to be sure. Most of the naysayers are disappointed that this year’s release isn’t an E Street outing, citing the advancing age of the band members as one reason why another such record shouldn’t be put off indefinitely (not to mention the fact that last year’s other release, Devils & Dust, was a solo effort). Another nitpick centers on the notion that Bruce is a songwriter first and foremost, and shouldn’t be releasing entire albums of other people’s songs, as if there is no artistry in interpretation, in making the text one’s own – tell that to Sinatra.
A quick perusal of the fan boards at Backstreets suggests that even post-release, a lot of people aren’t happy with this record, calling it a vanity project (among other things), and claiming that only the most fervent of the faithful will anoint this one with their approval. Many of them have decided to sit out the tour. Having listened to it quite a bit in the last couple of weeks, I have to say that I fail to understand the animosity. I don’t consider myself one of those fans who automatically approves everything a favorite artist does – I was pretty disappointed in The Rising, truth be told – but I am a fan who likes to see an artist defy expectations and convention. Artists owe us their best effort and their most honest work. They don’t owe us anything else.
This is a fine record, full of life - dare I say rollicking? - and full of the kinds of sentiments that Springsteen often expresses in his own songs. That’s not too surprising, considering that Seeger, via his influence on a new generation of folkie storytellers like Dylan, had a huge, if indirect, influence on Springsteen’s own development as a songwriter. This is essentially the work of a man who’s coming full circle back to the musical roots that have informed his life. If you think of Springsteen as a uniquely American artist (and I do), then who better to reinterpret this collection of uniquely American tunes?