LIVE from Your Speakers: Arlo Guthrie / Pete Seeger, PRECIOUS FRIEND
We could use Pete Seeger right about now, couldn’t we? Who wouldn’t appreciate a wise, folksy elder with a predilection for bringing together people of different perspectives and creeds, someone who used storytelling and music to find common territory (emotional, political and otherwise) and foster calm, considered dialogue? Granted, he could also rile up a crowd when riling was called for; but Seeger could read a room, take its temperature, and figure out the right thing to do at that moment. And in our moment, right now, we could use some of his wisdom, and, probably most of all, some peace.
When Seeger got together with Arlo Guthrie, the stories would fly and the songs would flow, and any audience fortunate enough to witness their collaborative shows would leave with a warm feeling, a feeling that they had just seen two friends doing for a couple thousand paying customers what they might have done on any given night, on any given porch or sitting in any given living room. With voices lifted high and two lifetimes’ worth of songs at their command, Seeger and Guthrie would make the evening special, and their second live album as a duo, 1982’s PRECIOUS FRIEND, puts this special quality on full display.
Where do you begin with this record, so full is it with great folk songs, great stories and great moments? Probably at the beginning – a fun take on “Wabash Cannonball,” complete with the two voices simulating the great train’s whistle in two-part harmony. Maybe clap along with “Old Time Religion,” but not so loudly that you can’t hear Seeger recast the lyrics to include just about every religion you can think of (just make sure to sing along on the chorus). Or enjoy Guthrie’s gentle rabble-rousing cover of Tom Paxton’s “I’m Changing My Name to Chrysler” – it’s hilarious, and definitely relatable, even today.
The easy back-and-forth between the pair is quite engaging, and so is their choice of material. Guthrie takes the lead on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and certainly brings down the house; Seeger slows things down with “Kisses Sweeter than Wine” and “Raggedy Raggedy” (in tribute to his Weavers bandmate Lee Hays) and builds the house back up again. This works at the end of the album, as well, with Seeger leading the crowd in “If I Had a Hammer,” after which Guthrie helps close out the proceedings with a reverent and resonant run through “Amazing Grace.”
What PRECIOUS FRIEND ultimately gives us is a kind of comfort, a sense of home and hominess, broadcast by two great men many years ago, and received by us today, in a difficult time. Put it on, relax and sink into its warmth.
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