Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Waist Deep In The Big Muddy Is A Typical Pete Seeger Folk Album!

The Good: Some wonderful lyrics, Good themes, Decent vocals, Good instrumental accompaniment.
The Bad: SHORT, Very simple instrumental accompaniment
The Basics: A generally decent album, Waist Deep In The Big Muddy And Other Love Songs short, but a generally fun folk album from Pete Seeger.

I found myself enjoying listening to Pete Seeger as my wife and I crossed the country in our little hybrid two years ago. My wife is not a fan of Pete Seeger's works, but she tolerates it while I drive, especially when I put the discs in while she sleeps. As well, on this second night of the trip, I've been left at the house we're staying at for the night while she goes out drinking with her friends. So, I've been catching up on reviews and listening to Pete Seeger albums on heavy replay.

The latest of those is Waist Deep In The Big Muddy And Other Love Songs. This is an older Pete Seeger album now available on compact disc and it has a very classic folk-rock feel and sound to it. The songs are generally simple, Seeger sings them energetically and the album replays generally well. For those looking for a simple Pete Seeger album, this is a good way to go; the songs are mostly his and the album only leaves one wishing there were more.

With fifteen songs occupying just about forty-seven minutes, Waist Deep In The Big Muddy And Other Love Songs is a tough sell on compact disc. This is not because the album is either bad or deficient in any real way, but rather because the album is so short. As a compact disc, this could have been filled up better and given how prolific Pete Seeger was at the point in his career that this album was originally released, two of his albums could have appeared on a single disc. That said, this is refreshingly filled with the creative vision of Pete Seeger. Seeger wrote seven of the songs and provided arrangements and additional material to three. "Down By The Riverside" and "East Virginia" are old enough to have authors lost to time and "The Sinking Of The Reuben James" and "Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream" are both covers.

Pete Seeger sings all of the songs on his own, though one or two of the tracks have him leading an extensive chorus. For example, "Down By The Riverside" and "Oh Yes I'd Climb (The Highest Mountain For You)" both have chorus accompaniment which allows Seeger to infuse a communal feeling to his works as well as feminine voices to balance his own more masculine voice. Seeger plays his own instruments, usually just the banjo or guitar he is known for playing. There is an additional harmonica on "Oh Yes I'd Climb (The Highest Mountain For You). This is in addition to Seeger's guitar, so it is not like he is shirking his musical duties on the track. While Seeger sings and plays an instrument, he is not involved in the production of Waist Deep In The Big Muddy And Other Love Songs.

Waist Deep In The Big Muddy And Other Love Songs is a general folk album, which means it is not a themed album. As a result, songs deal with war ("Waist Deep In The Big Muddy"), the effects of war ("My Name Is Liza Kalvelage), and generally the American experience ("East Virginia"). Seeger makes a typical folk plea for peace ("Down By The Riverside") but also sings of love ("Oh Yes I'd Climb (The Highest Mountain For You)"). He also fills an extensive track with exploring the nature of wisdom on "Seek And You Shall Find."

Instrumentally, Waist Deep In The Big Muddy And Other Love Song is very much a typical folk rock album, up to and including the presence of an instrumental track, a banjo number called "Nameless Lick." And while "Over The Hills" begins and ends with Seeger playing a lone woodwind (it sounds like an ocarina) most of the music is banjo and guitar driven. He uses the banjo solely for punctuation on songs like "East Virginia" and the instrumentation accompanying his voice on "My Father's Mansion's Many Rooms" is almost entirely absent. On songs with minimal instrumental accompaniment, Seeger's voice carries the tune almost entirely.

As for Pete Seeger's vocals, Waist Deep In The Big Muddy And Other Love Song continues a strong tradition in the folk music genre - and in Seeger's repertoire - Pete Seeger's vocals are clear and often emotive. On "My Name Is Liza Kalvelage" and "Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream," Seeger's vocals have a quiet sadness to them that is - quite amazingly - never so quiet as to make the lines indecipherable. Seeger articulates equally well when he is quiet and sad as when he is energetic and eager (as he is on "East Virginia"). Seeger has a tenor voice that keeps perfect pitch and he is predictably wonderful with his voice on Waist Deep In The Big Muddy And Other Love Songs.

Lyrically, Waist Deep In The Big Muddy And Other Love Songs has a lot going for it. When the songs are not repetitive, as "Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream," Seeger makes poignant statements. Chief among these is his brilliant song "My Name Is Liza Kalvelage." On that song, he sings a musical storysong about a German after World War II and he relates and observes, "I said I was a child or at most a teenager / But that only extended the questioning / They'd ask where were my parents, my father, my mother / And to this I could not answer a thing / The seed planted there at Nuremberg in 1947 / Started to sprout and grow / Gradually, I understood what that verdict meant to me / When there are crimes that I can see and I can know / And now I also know what it is to be charged with mass guilt" ("My Name Is Liza Kalvelage"). There are no mainstream artists that perform that kind of musical social commentary today and Seeger's works on this album are a breath of fresh air for those looking for smart music.

Waist Deep In The Big Muddy And Other Love Songs is a good folk album for anyone looking to hear what folk music is. Seeger is a great artist and for those who already like folk, this has a decent amount of variety. The musical storysongs have a strong sense of values to them and they work quite well to pass those ideas on to the next generation. It's hard to ask for more.

The best song is "My Name Is Liza Kalvelage" and I'm not wild about how "Seek And You Shall Find" plays over many listens.

For other Pete Seeger albums, please check out my reviews of:
American Industrial Ballads
We Shall Overcome: The Complete Carnegie Hall Concert June 8, 1963
God Bless The Grass
Stories & Songs For Little Children
The Best Of Pete Seeger (Vanguard)
If I Had A Hammer: Songs Of Hope And Struggle
Folk Songs For Young People
Greatest Hits (Brazilian Import)
American Favorite Ballads, Volume 1
American Favorite Ballads, Volume 5
Seeger & Hester
At 89


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© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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