Pete Seeger already has more albums in print than most people could ever listen to, but he continues to astonish with his joie de vivre and creativity. This 32-track collection was recorded live and in the studio, during his 89th year, and is full of Seeger tunes, new and old, as well as spoken word passages that introduce and illuminate the songs. The five spoken word passages are full of hard-won wisdom, and may sound fine between songs at a concert, but on a CD they don't really work. That leaves you with 14 Seeger songs, guaranteed to inspire. "False from True" is a New Orleans-style Dixieland blues that examines mortality and aging with a mournful but still hopeful eye. Clarinet, banjo, and bass provide gentle support to this song from 1968 that sounds even more poignant in Seeger's slightly cracked 89-year-old voice. "If It Can't Be Reduced" is a new song, based on the City of Berkeley's zero waste resolution -- "If it can't be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production." A young woman suggested Seeger use the words to write a song, and he did. With his 12-string guitar chiming and a chorus of friends, he turns the words into a childlike hymn to recycling that'll make you grin as you sing along. "If This World Survives" was written with Berkeley songwriter Malvina Reynolds, and Seeger leads an a cappella chorus to deliver its message of hope. "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena" was a hit for the Weavers in the '50s, a song by Israeli soldier/songwriter Yehiel Haggiz. Here Seeger and friends sing it in Hebrew and Arabic as an affirmation of brotherhood and understanding. "Bach at Treblinka" borrows a bit from Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring for this song about the Nazi death camps. Martha Sandefer delivers the chilling lyrics. In Treblinka the guards organized an orchestra of prisoners to play each morning for the prisoners marching off to their day of slave labor. It's slightly less than a minute long, but it's devastatingly powerful. "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" was written during the Vietnam War about those who blindly plow ahead, even when they put the lives of others at risk. It was written about LBJ, but it fits W to a T. As you might expect from a Seeger album, the songs on At 89 take on some of the problems faced by America in 2008, and while the music is sometimes touched by melancholy, Seeger's faith in his fellow humans shines through clearly.
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AllMusic Review by AllMusic