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The Boss's Boss 

by Jonathan Valania & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's no accident you don't really know what Pete Seeger did. Or that he's truly larger than life -- an American original, the kind who walks out of storybooks, like Paul Bunyan or Johnny Appleseed, but more real. That he more or less single-handedly carried the burden of pure roll-up-your-sleeves and speak-truth-to-power lefty populism, social justice and humanitarian conscience on his back for the better part of the 20th century, with amazing grace and without complaint.

For his trouble, he's been tarred and feathered, beaten and blacklisted, and officially written out of history textbooks. In the hunched winter of his life -- he's now 86 -- he's wandered in the same off-the-radar wilderness of hush-puppy gentility that Jimmy Carter's been exiled to, where nobody really listens and no good deed goes unpunished.

For reasons that remain unclear, Jesus Christ is considered a savior and guys like Pete Seeger are considered fools -- well-meaning, possibly, but unrealistic granola-munching ninnies just the same -- even though their morality and politics are exactly the same. Maybe someday when the Matrix is finally unplugged, the scales will fall from our eyes.

Sure, Seeger can be a stick in the mud and a fussbudget about interpretation, and it's true he did get fightin' mad when Dylan went electric. Boy, if Seeger had a hammer that day... well, things would be a lot different. Still, that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It's time for Americana's Obi-wan to pass his burden to a younger Jedi.

On We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, Bruce Springsteen, bless his heart, puts a lotta elbow grease into spit-shining a legacy tarnished by neglect, and Seeger's songbook cleans up real nice, the mantle fitting the Boss like an old pair of jeans -- the kind that makes his ass look good.

Assembling a non-E Street magic band of jolly folkateers, Springsteen mans the captain's wheel, barking out orders, making up arrangements on the fly and steers his wooden ship toward the same rockets'-red-glare twilight so palpable on Billy Bragg and Wilco's Mermaid Avenue series.

The result is easily the best Springsteen album since Nebraska. The problem heretofore was that there were only two kinds of Bruce: Springsteen that's good for you and Springsteen that feels good -- jugband or "Jungleland."

There was either the big rolling chromewheelfuelinjected rock 'n' roll hot rod of the E Street Band, or there were those solemn folk records, the musical equivalent of the Boss riding one of those old-timey bicycles with the big front tire. Problem is, people in Jersey think those bikes are lame.

The unintended irony is that despite the Boss's efforts to the contrary, those big arena-rockin' bar-band anthems are folk music -- you know, music for folks -- and the folkie records are kinda for highbrows and elitists. At best, those records and shows are endured -- if not flat-out ignored -- by your 700 level-sittin' working man, who waits patiently for another brewski-hoistin' E Street album or tour.

The Seeger Sessions will change all that. It's a total hoot: Dixieland stomps, bluegrass highs, mountain rags, porch-front hoedowns, pass-the-jug-a-wine gang-yell sing-alongs. It's gonna sound great up on lawn seats, where we'll join arm in arm, beers in hand, and sway. And on this much we'll agree: that we think we're so clever, classless and free, but we're still peasants as far as we can see. Still, we shall overcome. Someday.

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