Jan 282014

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

We would be remiss in our duty here at Cover Me if we didn’t take a moment to honor Pete Seeger, who passed away on January 27 at the age of 94.

Seeger was the twentieth century’s phosphorescent light of traditional folk music. Whether he was adapting works of unknown authors to strike tremendous chords (“Goodnight Irene,” “We Shall Overcome,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!”), introducing modern songs to audiences who weren’t quite ready for them (he recorded “Black and White” sixteen years before Three Dog Night took it to number one), or writing everlasting classics of his own (“If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”), Seeger knew the importance of bringing music to the people. “I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin, or situation in life,” he testified to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955. “I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody.”

Seeger’s concerts inevitably turned to community singalongs, with audiences joining in on songs they may have known for seventy-five seconds or seventy-five years. Under his guidance, everybody who ever attended a Pete Seeger concert became a cover artist. Seeger taught us that it wasn’t the quality of our voices that mattered; it was the volume to which we raised them. He made millions of gardens grow, inch by inch and row by row, and America is the better for his having done so.
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Jan 242012

Though Bob Dylan moved away from his role as a ‘protest singer’ long ago — we saw Another Side by his fourth album — his name will forever be associated with social activism. The international human rights organization Amnesty International rose out of the same turbulent era as Dylan, forming in 1961, the year Dylan recorded his first album. Fitting, then, that in celebration of their 50th birthday, Amnesty would call on artists to contribute their Dylan covers to the massive four disc set Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. Continue reading »

Dec 122011

Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International doesn’t come out for another month, but the massive four-disc tribute is available to stream below. We’re just making our way through it ourselves, but the Gaslight Anthem’s “Changing of the Guards” and Queens of the Stone Age‘s “Outlaw Blues” are early highlights. On the flip side, Ke$ha‘s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” is truly atrocious (though Miley Cyrus‘ “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” isn’t bad at all). For whatever reason, you can stream 60-second excerpts of the first two discs and the full songs for the second two. At 2+ hours of music, though, we think you’ll survive. Stream the album below, then tell us what the best/worst songs are in the comments. (via Facebook) Continue reading »

Nov 282011

Can you ever have ever too much Bob Dylan? With the release of an astounding line-up of artists for the latest Dylan tribute, the answer is a resounding – never! Last month we brought you more info on the upcoming Bob Dylan tribute album, Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International (including Ke$ha’s unfortunate quote comparing her music to that of the legend), but the full tracklist gets us even more excited. Elvis Costello! The Gaslight Anthem! Pete Townshend! Flogging Molly! Kronos Quartet! Continue reading »

Jul 202011

As part of the upcoming 2012 year-long 100th birthday celebration of Woody Guthrie comes Note of Hope, a twelve song covers tribute of mostly unreleased Guthrie songs. Woody’s daughter Nora Guthrie is at the helm producing the project which features bass player extraordinaire Rob Wasserman joining up with a fantastic selection of artists. The legendary American singer-songwriter and folk musician is getting the birthday party he deserves. Continue reading »

Dec 132009

Shuffle Sundays is a weekly feature in which we feature a cover chosen at random by my iTunes shuffle. The songs will usually be good, occasionally be bad, always be interesting. All downloads will only be available for one week, so get them while you can. After you listen, discuss this week’s tune in the comments.

Marc Chagall. Jacob’s Ladder. 1973.

When Bruce Springsteen announced in 2006 he was releasing an album of Pete Seeger songs, fans were perplexed. First of all, Pete Seeger wrote a grand total of zero of the disc’s songs, so why give him all the credit on We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions? Plus, a full album of traditional songs about mule-driving and froggie-courting seemed like a questionable career move.

Upon the album’s release though, many previous skeptical fans suddenly got it. These weren’t über-sincere acoustic guitar folk songs; this was his best loudest party album since this first disc of The River. Horns blared, accordions wailed, background singers yelped…there was even a washboard.

A high point of the disc was a take on the traditional “Jacob’s Ladder” that shook the heavens. Music journalist Dave Marsh described the tune in his liner notes (available online):

A Negro spiritual based on Genesis 28:11-19, best known as a Sunday School tune. It refers to the prophetic dream given to Jacob at Beth-El, while he is fleeing his brother, Esau, whom Jacob has cheated out of his inheritance. In the dream, angels are ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. While they do this, God promises Jacob that his seed “shall be as the dust of the earth” and spread throughout the world.

Slaves related to the dream powerfully, because it ended with a covenant that promised liberation: “I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” (This is consistent with the Midrash interpretation of the steps of the ladder as the exiles that the Jews would suffer.)

“Jacob’s Ladder” is another song that is much more commonly sung than recorded. Arlo Guthrie, Jane Siberry and Greg Brown made contemporary versions. There are vintage roots recordings by, among others, Hylo Brown, E.C. Ball, and Paul Robeson and gospel renditions by the Staple Singers, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Doris Troy and the Clara Ward Singers. Pete Seeger’s version can be found on Singalong: Live at the Sanders Theater, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1980.

If that all sounds a bit solemn, watch this video of the band doing it at St. Luke’s Cathedral for the BBC (also worth watching: this promo vid).

That came from May of 2006. By the fall this song (and every other) had gotten even more riotous, with more solo, more hollering, and even more joy. The tremendous Live In Dublin CD/DVD chronicles that period, the band hitting their peak as the tour rolled to a close. This rendition of “Jacob’s Ladder” comes from there.

Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band – Jacob’s Ladder (Trad.) [Buy]

What do you think? Discuss this song in the comments section below.