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.
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.