Sowing the Seeds

By: Sarah Moore

Many names we associate with pure folk music contributed to Sowing the Seeds – The 10th Anniversary (Appleseed Recordings), a new two disc folk compilation. Old school basic meets new school with such artists as Pete Seeger, Donovan, Ani DiFranco, Billy Bragg, Joan Baez and Jackson Browne – and that's just the first disc. All the usual folk characteristics are here, from spoken word ("Oh Sacred World") to fret noise and protest sentimentalities, marking folk music's influence on the politics of yesterday and today. Old songs get new life and a new context from the 1960's Doves to today's Bush and Iraq war protesters. They all surround the common man.

Disc One is subtitled And Justice For All, and most of the songs involve political stances from wars to Tom Joad (the common man faced with injustice in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath). Most tracks contain some sort of despondent emotion with the singer feeling powerless or overwhelmed. "19 Miles to Baghdad" (Lizzie West & The White Buffalo) could have been written about the Vietnam War, and "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" (Ani DiFranco) describes the gross conditions of war which can be analogous to the nonsense of it all. Not all of the songs have such a somber attitude, some possess a tongue-in-cheek or sarcastic message ("The Ross Perot (George Bush) Guide to Answering Embarassing Questions").

Disc Two, subtitled Love, Hope and Appleseed, involves songs with a uplifted attitude from "There is Hope" by Aoife Clancy (whose soprano voice hovers around thin, intricate guitar and vocal harmonies) to Ramblin' Jack Elliott's take on "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," which utilizes the legend's effortless vocals and layered single acoustic guitar. The types of sounds here fluctuate from upbeat country pop ("Gina in the Kings Road" by Al Stewart) to television sitcom sounds with a worldly message ("Namaste" by The Kennedys), meaning the disc is not merely vocalists with bare minimum guitar.

Pete Seeger lends his crafted hand on ELEVEN tracks, both solo and collaborations with both likely and unlikely cohorts (Bruce Springsteen, Arlo Guthrie, Steve Earle, etc.) while getting both the first and last words. His prevalence is understandable considering the great length of his career and the reach of his command of folk and musical influence. Some even say he precipitated the American folk music revival. The songs not featuring Seeger are some of his most famous performed by other artists ("Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!"). Sister Peggy Seeger sings solo in "Sing About These Hard Times," which again has no temporal obligations. New tracks abound alongside classic selections. Traditional themes collide with reinterpreted formats done by Kim and Reggie Harris with Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul & Mary), Bethany and Rufus as well as Eric Anderson with Wyclef Jean!

Folk veterans and noobs will agree on the wealth of this treasury, seeped in political intensions, minimal arrangements and collaborative efforts. Despite the breadth of performers involved, the discs sound intimate and refined, not loose or hastily put together.

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[Published on: 11/26/07]

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