Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pass It On

Pete Seeger was carrying on his father Charles' work as a musicologist when he released in the late 1950s a series of Folkways recordings that introduced the "tradition" to listeners enraptured by the "Folk Revival".

Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary—undoubtedly one of those listeners—takes the baton and, with his daughter Bethany, introduces these traditional songs once again to a new generation in a series of lovely children's books with enclosed CDs.

Peter, Paul and Mary have always been impressive—both collectively and individually. I have been a devoted fan since my junior high days. I pined for the day that I could grow a Van Dyke like Peter and Paul. I longed to sing songs that MATTER. I trusted their judgement in whatever they chose to sing, and I was never disappointed.

For much of their early work in the 1960s, they drew from the folk music canon. I know these songs by heart but, as the decades have passed, I would wonder about the canon's future. Sometime in the late 1980s and early 1990s the definition of what it meant to be a folksinger shifted. You no longer had to pay homage to the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. The political instead became the personal as singers like Shawn Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter and countless others gained popularity. An alarming development I suppose, but in those apolitical times the fact that anyone who was simply strapping on an acoustic guitar to entertain people could make money at it was heartening.

I was pleasantly surprised to run across The Peter Yarrow Songbooks pictured above (copyright 2008) in my local library. It took me immediately back to Pete Seeger's America's Favorite Ballads albums that I own. My, how I loved to listen and read those liner notes and imagine what Greenwich Village must have been like in the '60s. And now, just as I started believing that the fire had died, here comes 70-year-old Peter Yarrow singing timeless classics like "The Erie Canal", "Beautiful City", "All the Pretty Horses", and "Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot.".

What lovely books they are! Packaged like 78 lps from a bygone era, these books feature gorgeous illustrations by Terry Widener and both the songs--presented first as readaloud poetry, and secondly as music, complete with chord changes and music shown. All this for a mere $16.95 in the U.S. A steal, I say!

Peter—if I could speak to you I would give you a big hug and say "thanks" for all the listening pleasure you've provided me and for keeping the tradition alive. It's heroic, and a beautiful circle!

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