Banks of Marble and Other Songs was Pete Seeger's first new studio album in three and a half years, since 1971's Rainbow Race, which proved to be his final LP in a ten-year stint at Columbia Records, and it marked his return to his old label, the tiny independent Folkways Records. At Folkways, he pointed out in his liner notes, he used to record casually, leaving it up to company head Moses Asch to assemble albums from disparate sessions, while at Columbia, he worked "in a huge studio, with millions of dollars worth of equipment" and had "less and less fun." (Actually, most of his Columbia LPs were recorded live, but never mind.) Here, he compromised between the two approaches, laboring, he said, for eight months on an album under the aegis of his old Weavers bandmate Fred Hellerman. While extra musician credits are scant, it's apparent that Hellerman added touches, with a bass guitar here and a flute (or some sort of wind instrument) there, plus the occasional harmony vocal. He also used studio techniques, making this probably the first Pete Seeger album with overdubs. For example, Seeger was able to sing each of the overlapping sections of the round "Joy and Temperance," and there is an echo effect on "Garbage." But this is still a Pete Seeger record, which means it is dominated by Seeger's reedy tenor voice and his banjo, with the occasional guitar substituted instead. It also means that the songs are a mixture of old (Les Rice's title song, criticizing banks, dates back to 1950, and Seeger has recorded it before) and new, the 1974 copyrights including the environmentally conscious Seeger original "Don't Ask What a River Is For" and "Estudio Chile," Seeger's musical setting of a poem written by the Chilean singer/songwriter Victor Jara just before his murder in the wake of the 1973 military coup in Chile. There is also lighter fare, and Seeger comes off as both optimistic and philosophical in an almost elegiac way. (He was 55 when this album was released.) He may not have been entirely happy being cooped up in a studio so long, but he emerged with a batch of songs he could insert into his concert repertoire easily.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann