by Whit Hill
In my left hand I hold the first Peggy Seeger record I ever owned. It came out in 1957 I was born sometime after that and by the time I was a toddler, American Folk Songs Sung by the Seegers was in regular rotation on the funky green record player that some guy named Earl had left at our house and never come back for. I learned every song on it and often imagined that I was one of the fabulous Seeger family, brothers and sisters all singing together, instead of the lonely little only child I was. I thought deeply about each song. Why did the rich Irish lady in "The Rich Irish Lady" die? Why did that guy stab "Fair Ellender"? And what, precisely, was the nature of the "sugar candy" alluded to in "My Home across the Smoky Mountain"? And could I have some?
In my right hand, I hold Peggy Seeger's brand-new record (which is much smaller than the other one, and packaged quite differently). But Love Call Me Home (2005, Appleseed Recordings) is still filled with Seeger's pristine, girlish voice, delicate banjo playing, eerie/exuberant folk songs, and sense of family and tradition. As in the battered LP, the songs here are old, even the new ones. There's "Poor Ellen Smith" based on an 1892 North Carolina murder. There's Seeger's own "Sing about These Hard Times" based on the gospel tune "Down to the River to Pray." And there's a stunning, sobering a cappella reconstruction of an old Alan Lomax recording of Ozella Jones singing "Bad Bad Girl" filled with regret and loss.
How wonderful it must be for Seeger to look back on fifty years of concerts, twenty solo albums, 100 joint recordings with other singers, and 200 original songs not to mention kids and grandkids, world travels, and a life of creative social activism. How important it is to keep these songs alive and
remembered, resung and interpreted. They are the wellspring from which so many other songs came, and it's truly a gift to be able to hear them again, ungussied, unadulterated, and still so fresh.
The record in my left hand also taught me math. Seriously. To this day, when my multiplication tables elude me, I call on Peggy Seeger and her siblings to remind me:
| Five times five is twenty-five, |
Five times six is thirty.
Five times seven is thirty-five
Five times eight is forty.
I'd go play it right now, except that I don't have a record player.
Peggy Seeger plays the Ark on Sunday, March 26.
[Review published March 2006]