added: 1 Sep 2014
// release date: 8 Sep 2014 // label: Signet
reviewer: Andy Snipper
Peggy Seeger is one of the most remarkable musicians that the folk genre has ever known but she is too often described as sister to Pete Seeger and wife of Ewan MacColl (she was the muse for which he wrote ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face). She is both of those things but far more importantly she is a folk singer and feminist with 21 previous albums behind her and a magnificent story teller too.
This is the first time she has written songs with others including her son Calum MacColl and Kate St John but the album is clearly her album and it is debatable that anyone else could put these songs over with the depth and pathos and without straying into bathos and bombast.
She describes the album as “This is a dark album – not black but deep chocolate with burgundy wine” and it is dark; deep with feeling and a need to talk about the horrors that we poor humans beset ourselves but with a feeling of hope and tenderness rather than bleakness. Her voice is a potent weapon, high pitched and soft but there is a knowing smile behind it and a kindness in the way that she sings, even when she is singing about the most personal and intensely painful topics.
The albums opener is ‘Swim To The Star’ and it is a few lines in, as she has broached lines such as “nearer my god to thee” or “the band plays on” after the chilling opening line “The ship went down … in still water” that the image of the Titanic comes to mind but without overplaying the death and loss element – somehow she makes a personal statement that could be applied to any human failing.
She immediately lightens the mood with a lullaby written by sons Calum and Neill that is just beautiful; sedate and stately and with just the touch of a lisp in her voice; it almost makes you wish you were a child to be sung to sleep with such a lovely number. Calum plays a lovely kalimba solo and the plodding rhythm has even an adult nodding with the song.
Every track on the album has a story, often hidden behind the immediate words, and by the finish you have been taken through war, peace, the subtle attractions of drug addiction but the final number, ‘Everything Changes’, reminds you of a gentler time but without wishing away the years in between and inspired by the loss of trees in London.
Peggy Seeger is a monumental figure in folk and modern music but this proves that she is still vibrant and relevant. It may not be her best ever album but this is definitely Peggy Seeger at her best.
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