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Pete Seeger

AMERICA'S FAVORITE BALLADS sung by Pete Seeger, with banjo and twelve-string guitar accompaniment; Folkways 12 in. 2320; $5.95; Available at Briggs & Briggs.

By Daniel Field

Pete Seeger's latest record is an excellent one in its own way, but it is sailing under rather false colors, for it is essentially a children's record. While it would make a very good introduction to folk singing for a small child, the material is too hackneyed for his elders. Even the most ardent of Seeger's admirers will find trouble in giving undivided attention to Home on the Range and Yankee Doodle.

Aside from limiting the record's appeal, the program entails a second disadvantage. Most of these songs have been extensively recorded by other singers; and while Seeger has his distinct merits, too many of the ballads can be heard in better performances on other records: Leadbelly's Mary Don't You Weep, Gary Davis's Wreck of the 97, or Lee Payant's Big Rock Candy Mountain. In a sense, Seeger is joining battle with all of his competitors at the same time; it is not surprising that he often comes off second best.

The record has some minor defects, at once more trivial and more bizarre than the essential one. The various songs seem to have been recorded over the last ten or fifteen years; at least, the quality of Seeger's voice changes remarkably from band to band, which is a little unsettling. There is in addition no apparent relation between either the text or the label and the order in which the listed ballads are sung on side two.

But none of the above should detract too much from Seeger's considerable artistry. He has a poor voice and poorer diction, but neither failing seems to bother him, and if it bothers his listeners they can go elsewhere. He has in his favor a completely ingratiating manner--which natuarally comes across better in person--and tremendous skill with banjo and guitar. This ability is heard to best advantage on dance tunes like Old Dan Tucker and The Blue Tailed Fly.

If Seeger has a major failing, it is not his voice, but a restricted repertory, a failing common to most American folksingers, including Odetta, Woody Guthrie, and even Leadbelly. Seeger is fine with any hard-driving, rhythmic and fast-moving song, but he seems confined by any lyric more tender than The Wreck of the 97. This is a pity, because it means he must be either cut off from a great body of relatively sedate folk songs, or perform them somewhat below the level of their potential. Seeger generally choses to attempt them, but he is a complete success only so long as he keeps the joint jumping.

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