In 1996 we saw a rare collaboration happen. Pete Seeger, the eminent folk singer and political activist, joined forces with Paul Winter, the new age auteur of instrumental music and spiritual themes, to make an album. What came out of it was “Pete,” a rare and beautiful record that finds a graceful balance between Seeger’s powerful folk tradition and Winter’s instrumentation.
Over the course of eighteen songs Seeger guides on a course through classic folk songs with the backing of a host of musicians, including Winter and a few different choirs. It’s a journey through the mind of one of folk’s most knowledgeable and far-seeing craftsmen. The sound of the album deliciously blends years of influence with the atmosphere of choir voices, lending a certain flavor of introspection and depth to the songs. The occasional injection of Winter’s soprano sax manages not to overwhelm the music and adds a bit of color to the mix.
The album opens with “Well May the World Go,” a traditional song that Seeger adapted with new words and music. According to Seeger in the liner notes, it was an old song in his school songbook known originally as “Weel May The Keel Row.” Seeger and the chorus known as Gaudeamus turn it into an ecstatic, rollicking number that bursts with energy.
Longtime Seeger fans can rediscover classic songs like “My Rainbow Race” and “Sailing Down My Golden River,” which find new life on “Pete.” Another one of his older songs, “All Mixed Up,” absolutely shines on this recording, bouncing along in its Caribbean melody and smorgasbord of musical and lyrical influence, celebrating the various foods,places and histories that make up modern life:
“I like Polish sausage, I like Spanish rice
Pizza pie is also nice
Corn and beans from the Indians here
Washed down by some German beer
Marco Polo travelled by camel and pony
Brought to Italy the first macaroni
And you and I as well as we’re able
Put it all on the table”
Wizened like a great father of time, there is probably no one more capable of taking us on such a journey as Pete Seeger. We hear songs old and new from the folk legend, granted a joyous and bittersweet look into Seeger’s vision of the world. Some moments on the album will make you skip around with happiness – others will make you weep with Seeger’s sense of human connection and stewardship of the earth.
Seeger goes back to basics with just voice and 12-string guitar on “How Can I Keep From Singing,” an old traditional from the 1800s:
“My life flows on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentations
I hear the real tho’ far off hymn
That hails a new creation
Thru all the tumult and the strife
I hear that music ringing
It sounds an echo in my soul,
How can I keep from singing”
This old song goes straight through the heart of Seeger’s work as a musician. Singing is his way of spreading his message through the world. On his liner notes for “Pete,” the singer sums up what makes the process of making and sharing music so special for him:
“Music in some strange, mystical way brings people together, in spite of our problems.”