A Tribute From the Right Folks

Pete Seeger, now the grand old man of folk music, is associated with some of the classic songs of the genre, including such anthems as "We Shall Overcome," "If I Had a Hammer" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."

Typically, none of those songs carries the single "Pete Seeger" writing credit. Seeger, 78, is a servant of the folk process--a hunter and gatherer, an editor and adapter who cobbles most of his pieces together from half-remembered hymns and renewable folk tunes, Bible verses and poets' words, traditional songs that need a little tinkering. His wry reflection on aging, "Get Up and Go," was based on a humorous rhyme on a coffee shop menu.

That account comes from Seeger in the booklet of this two-CD tribute album, a collection whose roster reflects the diversity treasured by the guest of honor. Performers range in age from 5 to 85, and they represent European, African, American Indian and Hispanic heritages.

Some of the artists are virtually unknown outside the folk community, and the big names--Bruce Springsteen, Ani DiFranco, et al--are here because they make sense artistically or socially, not because they're big names.

The material has a similar range, from Seeger's most familiar songs to one, "Festival of Flowers," recorded for the first time, by Tish Hinojosa. Most of the performances are firmly in the folk and folk-rock mainstream, but actor Tim Robbins and his arranger brother Dave transform "All My Children of the Sun" into a rich piece of aural theater, Studs Terkel growls a couple of poems, and Seeger himself weighs in with a raspy benediction.

Over its two-plus hours, the album has some lugubrious stretches, but nothing that detracts seriously from the recurring, urgent themes of social justice that are bred in the bone of Seeger's music.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good), four stars (excellent).

Hear the Music

* Excerpts from "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips

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