Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan both have recording contracts with the major label Columbia Records, but those contracts must have very different language. When tiny Folkways Records, the label for which Seeger started recording in 1950, issued Broadside Ballads, Vol. 1 through its Broadside Records subsidiary, among the various artists performing songs that had been featured in the topical song magazine Broadside was one "Blind Boy Grunt," who sang Dylan songs and bore a suspicious vocal similarity to the songwriter, suggesting this was just a pseudonym adopted for contractual reasons. On the other hand, Seeger simply appeared on the album as himself. It's not surprising that Folkways has the right to release archival Seeger recordings made prior to the start of his Columbia contract in 1961; what is surprising is that he goes on making new recordings for Folkways. Nominally, the smaller label apparently is only allowed to issue material Columbia considers noncommercial, but that doesn't explain the simultaneous appearance in the marketplace of a Columbia LP, the live We Shall Overcome, and this studio recording, that share five songs in common, among them Seeger's version of Malvina Reynolds' satiric ditty "Little Boxes," which Columbia also has released as a single, and which Broadside/Folkways heralds with a special notation on the album cover of Broadside Ballads, Vol. 2. (The other four tracks the albums have in common are "Who Killed Davey Moore?," "I Ain't Scared of Your Jail," "What Did You Learn in School Today?," and "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall.") In a sense, Seeger was competing with himself in record stores in the fall of 1963, but he may not have minded if the result was that these songs gained even greater exposure. Like the first volume of Broadside Ballads, this one contains newly written topical songs, only in this case, Seeger is the sole performer, accompanying himself on banjo or guitar as he interprets the work of young writers like Dylan ("Fare Thee Well," "Who Killed Davey Moore?," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"), Tom Paxton ("The Willing Conscript," "What Did You Learn in School Today?"), Peter La Farge ("The Ballad of Ira Hayes"), and Phil Ochs ("The Ballad of Lou Marsh"). The songs cover a variety of contemporary concerns including conformity, the civil rights movement, antiwar sentiments, and business/labor conflicts. Some, torn from the headlines, just express anguish over a sunken submarine ("The Thresher") or a slain peacemaker who stepped between two violent gangs ("The Ballad of Lou Marsh"). Seeger presents each of the songs clearly for their messages, which, of course, have a left-wing slant. "Business," for example, Seeger's own musical setting of a sonnet by the French poet Guillevic translated by Walter Lowenfels, is a sarcastic criticism of capitalism and its pursuit of profit, "where all happiness is contained," while "William Moore, the Mailman," another Seeger melody for a lyric by Seymour Farber, laments the murder of a civil rights activist by a racist in Alabama. No matter how impassioned (or how arch) the language, however, Seeger always sings evenly, intent on getting the point across with little of his own emphasis.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann