We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
When it gets right down to cases, you've got to really dig this kinda shit — unfiltered traditional American folk music played hoe-down style. If you generally don't, as I generally don't, then Springsteen's spirited take on the folk tradition of Pete Seeger et al will ultimately be little more than a charming curio. I can appreciate We Shall Overcome from sort of an academic standpoint. I can even admire it. Damn, I might even revere it at times. But I'll never be able to truly love or internalize it.
That said, Springsteen has done a very cool thing here by taking such venerable tunes as "Jesse James," "John Henry," "Shenandoah," "Froggie Went a Courtin'," the title tack and others and, if not contemporizing them, at least placing them in a context that's traditional yet fresh. If you're like me, you'll be glad to know that this is not Springsteen moaning folk ballads over an acoustic guitar. He has a large band in tow — fiddles, banjo, upright bass, accordion, horns, washboard — playing in a completely unrehearsed, extemporaneous fashion.
Their performances blend mountain music, bluegrass, Celtic and other strains of Americana into front-porch rave-ups, waltzes, sing-alongs and pensive ballads — all infused with a sense of good-time swing. Springsteen's voice does succumb to certain affectation, kind of an approximated Southern-ness, that's overdone at times.
In the final analysis, We Shall Overcome is like a birthday gift that's much valued when you tear off the wrapper, but ultimately won't get much use. 3 stars Eric Snider
The Whitey Album
The Sonic Youth camp continues to clear its decks with an admirably deep series of reissues. Most important, the band's record label has finally given the go-ahead on a re-release of the band's very first recording, a self-titled EP from all the way back in 1982. It's odd to hear a derivative record from a band that would later develop such a self-contained sound, but the EP is clearly indebted to Sonic Youth's no wave peers.
This doesn't mean it's not worthwhile. "The Burning Spear" is a writhing blast of noise-punk, and the instrumental "The Good and the Bad" points directly toward the band's later long-form jams. The EP is tricked out with some bloody-raw live tracks and early studio work, which definitely help get you in the Lower-East-Side-basement frame of mind.
Ciccone Youth was a jokey side project released back in 1988 that drew a big cartoon mustache on pop's then-reigning queen, Madonna. The album is so lowbrow that it's bizarrely highbrow, with karaoke takes on "Addicted to Love" and "Burnin' Up" (the latter courtesy of Mike Watt) mixing it up with tracks like "(Silence)," which is just what it says it is. Hardly essential, but a lot of fun.
Psychic Hearts sees guitarist Thurston Moore indulging his poppier side, but this is, of course, all relative. Those looking for the scratch 'n' bleed the Youth normally trades in will not be disappointed. Sonic Youth 3.5 stars The Whitey Album 4 stars Psychic Hearts 4 stars Cooper Lane Baker
The Grey CD
LACK OF KNOWLEDGE
Southern Records, a Chicago independent label/distributor, reissues this material by obscure early-'80s U.K. act Lack of Knowledge a little too late for the angular post-punk craze, but just in time for the burgeoning New Wave resurgence. These 14 tracks split the difference between the former's willful difficulty and the latter's atmosphere and aesthetic; while Lack of Knowledge's oddly arranged, politically aware tunes could never be called hook-laden, there's enough reverb, jaunty bass and British-accented baritone here to qualify them as precursors to today's Depeche Mode- and Modern English-worshipping trendsters. The group was obviously more in line with the likes of Killing Joke and Joy Division than those poppier acts, but The Grey CD — made up of tracks from 1983's EP of the same name and '84's LP Sirens Are Back — might be just catchy enough to garner some long-overdue attention. 3 stars Scott Harrell
The Swedish aggregation drops its second full-length, a likable collection of sun-kissed melodies, lush vocal harmonies and layered arrangements in the Spector/Wilson mode. At its best, In Colour calls to mind Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac, but on occasion it lapses into slightness. Still and all, pop-o-philes would do well to turn an ear. 3 stars ES