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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Constants in a World of Change

    Brian Wilson: That Lucky Old Sun (Capitol)

    Joan Baez: Day After Tomorrow (Razor and Tie)

    Pete Seeger: Pete Seeger at 89 (Appleseed Records)

    In a season when everyone is proclaiming their support for “change” it’s a comfort to return to some old friends for constancy and consistency.

    And who could be more constant than Pete Seeger, that near-nonagenarian folk singer who pretty much single-handedly resurrected the American folk vernacular, and re-presented it to generations of new audiences. (Oh, that and spearheaded the cleanup of the Hudson River.) After all, what Seeger did was take gutteral old black blues, black South African folk songs, and songs of white rural resistance and made them so palatable that three generations of children were weaned on them. What could be more subversive than that?

    Seeger’s been a constant presence, and while his voice has nearly given out, he is so adroit a singer and such an affable banjo and guitar picker that it hardly matters. On this release of new material, Seeger reminisces about political struggles old and new, and the musical soundtrack he’s provided for three-quarters of a century. His bearded grisled features, his sweet if shaky voice, and his political affiliations are so damned sensible that he makes real democracy worth defending.

    If Pete Seeger is the grandfather of the 1950s folk revival, Joan Baez is one half of his most fabled offspring (the other is, of course, Bob Dylan). And while Dylan has reinvented himself more often than Elvis Costello, Baez’s sweet soprano voice and calm politics of compassion have remained utterly unchanged.

    On her latest release, that’s both the good news and the bad news. Many of the songs are as languidly haunting as ever, but some also feel anachronistic, as if the world has passed them by. Steve Earle’s respectful production edges towards the border where timeless truths become tired platitudes. Happily, Baez rarely crosses over, and her soothing voice and rich arrangements are just the thing to curl up to with a cup of chamomile tea on a rainy afternoon.

    No rainy afternoons for Brian Wilson, founder and resident genius of the Beach Boys. Wilson invented the SoCal surf sound, and spent decades making it lusher, richer and more orchestral and majestic. And then he retreated, broken, into a myopic exile.

    So it’s a bit miraculous to have him back — after his nervous breakdowns, a decade of virtual hibernation, and the deaths of his two brothers. And he’s not simply recycling the old sounds, like the near-septuagenarian Mike Love prancing around the stage singing “Surfin Safari.”

    This new release is as musically grand as it is lyrically grandiose. Wilson has somehow come to believe that SoCal surfers are now the quintessential American story, and that sound defines the American pageant. His trademark bright harmonies and lush arrangements are punctuated by pompous poetic interludes and vague homilies. A sweet album, but one where more is definitely less.

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