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Sunday Night Journal, December 31, 2017

52 Albums, Week 52: The Weavers At Carnegie Hall

Sometime in the early 2000s I went in the library and I ran across a CD of The Weavers at Carnegie Hall. I don't know why I checked it out; maybe because it had Pete Seeger name on it and I always liked his voice and music. When I got home I played it straight through. It was undoubtedly the most purely enjoyable CD I had ever heard. The Weavers had a joyful and relaxed playful spirit about them and the songs were all ones I like or instantly learn to like.*

 The Weavers’ good musicianship was a delight. My favorite cut is “Kisses Sweeter than Wine.” It has the perfect blend of joy and trials that characterize a good marriage.**

 

 I like Seeger’s non-bluegrass banjo, as featured on “Darling Corey.

 

 They also had good humor. There was a running gag throughout the show on the words to “Greensleeves”. There were also some more serious songs, like “Sixteen Tons”. In fact the album gets more serious as it proceeds.

 The voices are not that great, except Seegers. Ronnier Gilbert’s alto is too harsh and Lee Hayes’s baritone sounds like he has something in his throat. My least favorite song is the last one, Lead Belly’s “Goodnight Irene”; It is musically pretty flat.

 There is a lot of controversy from all sides surrounding the Weavers, especially Seeger. Seeger was a communist who early on distanced himself from Stalin and Soviet communism, but his reputation lingered. Seeger was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. He was unable to perform on national television until a 1968 Smothers Brothers broadcast.

 The Weavers have also been criticized for lifting “Wimoweh” from the South African singer Solomon Linda’s “Mbube” without sufficient compensation.

 Linda’s version: 

 Weaver’s version (“Wimoweh”): 

Then there was the question of authenticity, commercialization, and exploitation. They certainly popularized the American folk tradition for a broad audience. This concert and the recording of it may have been on of the most important events precipitating the folk boom of the late 1950s and early 60s, paving the way for a Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Peter Paul and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel, the Smothers Brothers, and Bob Dylan, whom Seeger strongly promoted early on.

Here is a closing shot: “Pay Me My Money Down”:

 *My tastes tend more in the direction of pop than most of those who contribute to this series. First of all, I'm not as interested in the lyrics, although they sure don’t hurt. Nor is “authenticity” particularly important category, since I don’t really understand the boundary. My criteria are melody, harmony, arrangement, complexity and theme. A really good voice doesn’t hurt, either. Which makes it odd, I suppose, that I'm a big fan of those Neil Young albums. I’m also a hopeless romantic.

 **Not all the videos in this review are from the concert at Carnegie Hall because there aren’t very many on Youtube. The original song order from the 1955 recording, if you can find it, is much better than the strange playlist on Spotify, which seems to be In a random order. Or perhaps the Spotify list is in the order in which the songs were actually played. I made my own playlist on Spotify,

 1. "Darling Corey" (Traditional, arranged by Gilbert, Hays, Hellerman) — 1:58

2. "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" (traditional, arranged by Gilbert, Hays, Hellerman) — 3:14
3. "Pay Me My Money Down" (Parrish) — 2:36

4. "Greensleeves" (Traditional) — 2:39

5. "Rock Island Line" (Lead Belly) — 2:19

6. "Around the World" (Gilbert, Hays, Hellerman) — 2:37

7. "Wimoweh" (Traditional, arranged by Gilbert, Hays, Hellerman) — 1:46

8. "Venga Jaleo" (Brooks) — 2:09

9. "Suliram (I'll Be There)" (Campbell, Engvick) — 2:05

10. "Shalom Chaverim" (Gilbert, Hays, Hellerman) — 2:02

11. "Lonesome Traveler" (Hays) — 1:59

12. "I Know Where I'm Going" (Traditional, arranged by Gilbert, Hays, Hellerman) — 1:51

13. "Woody's Rag/900 Miles" (Woody Guthrie) — 1:34

14. "Sixteen Tons" (Merle Travis) — 2:03

15. "Follow the Drinking Gourd" (Gilbert, Hays, Hellerman ...) — 2:09

16. "When the Saints Go Marching In" (Traditional) 2:15

17. "I've Got a Home in That Rock" (Gilbert, Hays, Hellerman) — 1:48

18. "Hush Little Baby" (Campbell) — 1:03

19. "Go Where I Send Thee (One for the Little Bitty Baby)" (Traditional, arranged by Gilbert, Hays, Hellerman) — 2:35

20. "Sylvie" (Lead Belly, Lomax)

21. "Goodnight, Irene" (Lead Belly, Lomax) — 4:02

—Robert Gotcher is a theologian from Milwaukee, where he and his wife have been raising their seven children, five of whom are out of the house, more or less. He is a recovering Beatlemaniac.

Comments

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Sorry for the delay, Thursday kind of snuck up on me, as my house is not on its usual schedule between Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Thanks for sharing this! The first time I heard the Weavers - I think it was also the first I heard OF them - was on their reunion album, "The Weavers Together Again" (1981). A friend had the album and I listened to it while visiting.

I heard Pete Seeger back in 1984 when he did a benefit concert in Birmingham, AL. He performed "Wemoweh" that night and really bellowed it out strong and beautifully (he would have been about 65 at the time).

Pete also turned the audience into a beautiful choir, singing along with him - which was one of his great talents. I'm glad he had almost 30 years left at that time, because I really came to appreciate his contributions, and have missed him since he departed this life.

I may have to check out the Weavers at Carnegie Hall to get a flavor of those early years.

I'm somewhat partial to this kind of folk music, despite its "lack of authenticity," because I listened to a lot of it as a child. My sister and I had an uncle who must've known someone who worked at a radio station, as he was always passing radio promo records on to us. They were almost always folk and country-western albums (although I do remember a broadway cast album on clear blue vinyl -- Do I Hear A Waltz?), and I think that they were probably things his friend gave him but that he didn't care for. He tended to like the traditional C&W of the time: Jim Reeves, Buck Owens -- Eddy Arnold was his favorite, I recall.

We never had any Weavers' records but we did get things like The Kingston Trio, The Limeliters, and The Brothers Four -- mostly early to mid-60's stuff. I didn't hear the Weavers until much later on, but they obviously fit into this category.

They were pretty much the prototype of it, I think. The bloom is mostly off the rose of that genre for me, though I loved it in my early teens, when it was contemporary--not the Weavers but PPM et al. I appreciate the talent of many of them now but don't really enjoy most of the music very much. I appreciate Pete Seeger's role in bringing folk music to a wider audience. Mike Seeger's too, maybe more.

A big exception: Ian and Sylvia. Basically in the same genre, but to me more interesting and affecting.

Hey Mac, were you going to do a 52 Albums Complete List like you did for authors and movies? I've got a few friends who'd be interested.

Yes, I meant to but Haven't Gotten Around To It Yet. Maybe if I just do ten a day or so I can get it done fairly soon.

I'm not sure the other lists are entirely accurate, either.

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