Goofing-Off Suite

Pete Seeger

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Goofing-Off Suite Review

by William Ruhlmann

Pete Seeger has been the subject of such controversy during his career that surely some people have wished that he would just shut up and play his banjo. If so, those people may be pleased by Goofing-Off Suite, which is largely an album of instrumentals. Seeger, the son of a composer and a violinist, took a detour from the family business into folk music, but here he returns to Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Grieg, albeit as played on the banjo. He also turns to show music for Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" and, inevitably, mixes these tunes in with various folk themes. He can't quite keep his voice silent during the "suite," however, as he whistles, yodels, hums, and even sings a line or two of German during "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." Then, as of the 12th track, "Time's A-Getting Hard," it seems that Folkways Records ran out of Seeger instrumentals, and the disc starts to turn into a regular Pete Seeger folk album, complete with his tenor vocals on traditional folk songs and his own original (co-written with erstwhile Almanac Singers/Weavers partner Lee Hays), "Empty Pocket Blues" (aka "Barrel of Money Blues"). "Sally My Dear" finds Seeger playing the flute-like chalil in between a cappella verses. One more instrumental closes the album out, Woody Guthrie's "Woody's Rag," which sounds like a guitar overdubbed by a mandolin. The concept of having Seeger make an LP's worth of his banjo arrangements of the classics is a good one, and he and Folkways might as well have carried through with it all the way.

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