In 1941, on some of his first recordings, 22-year-old Pete Seeger joined with the other members of the Almanac Singers to perform union songs on the album Talking Union and Other Songs. Forty-five years later, a 67-year-old Seeger teamed up with Jane Sapp and Si Kahn to record a new album for Flying Fish Records in the same spirit and even using some of the same songs. Most of the disc was recorded at the studio of Fred Hellerman (like Seeger, a former member of the Weavers) in Connecticut with a small band including Hellerman on synthesizer, Arlen Roth on guitar, and John Miller on bass, accompanying Seeger's banjo and 12-string guitar, Sapp's piano, and Kahn's acoustic guitar. But a few tracks ("Talking Union," "I'm Gonna Be an Engineer," "De Colores," "Joe Hill") come from a live recording of Seeger alone made at the People's Church in Chicago. On those songs, Seeger is his usual song-leader self, interacting with an audience. But the studio tracks, on which he uncharacteristically has to deal with other musicians, are the most interesting. As producer Bruce Kaplan acknowledges in his liner notes, this is not "a smooth record" or "a sophisticated record," and what he means is that the players are more concerned with getting their messages of labor solidarity across than in coming up with cooperative arrangements or doing a lot of takes. It sounds like Kahn, who has a good conversational tenor, and Sapp, with her soulful wail, are, like Seeger, accustomed to performing by themselves, and the backup musicians usually seem to be winging it. But this just gives the album a frisky charm. It's as if a bunch of workers who can sing and play happen to have gotten together to swap union songs. And so they do, chronicling the unfair practices of corporate bosses and the struggles of employees to get fair pay and working conditions. Seeger and the Almanacs made these points nearly a century earlier, and sound perfectly relevant today.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann