It wasn't hard to predict that Bruce Springsteen would follow up the comparatively downbeat Devils & Dust
with an album that ratcheted up the energy a few notches -- but not even the most careful Boss watcher could have predicted the contents of We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,
which has been expanded extensively for this updated edition. Since Springsteen has always been one to let the music do the talking, it's fitting that he jimmies several more topical tunes into this version of The Seeger Sessions
-- including Pete
's still-resonant Vietnam War screed "Bring 'Em Home" and "American Land," a workingman's lament that Bruce adapted from one of Seeger's archival pieces. Even on the songs that didn't originate with Seeger, the spirit of the folk legend shines through -- in Springsteen originals like the wounded-soldier lament "Mrs. McGrath" and in the staunch, placard-carrying attitude that imbues so many others. Instead of doctrinaire folk simplicity, however, Bruce envelops the songs in rollicking melodies, some launched skyward by upwards of a dozen musicians at once. The disc isn't entirely given over to soapbox screeds, however. In fact, Springsteen gets downright goofy on a passel of tracks -- like a hootin'-and-hollerin' version of the campfire classic "Froggy Went a Courtin' " -- that walk the sunnier side of the folk street. It's endearing to hear the king of the Jersey streets find his way through the thickets of accordion, tuba, and such -- the aural equivalent of traversing an unmarked road. He handles the terrain remarkably well. Knowing when to crack wise -- he name-checks Bill Gates in the sharecropper standard "Pay Me My Money Down" -- and when to play it straight, as on "Shenandoah," one of the disc's few outright ballads. The DVD portion of the set -- considerably more thought out than most such additions in its initial incarnation -- is expanded significantly here, with the original documentary now flanked by a pair of music videos and some freshly recorded concert footage. The latter element, highlighted by a fierce version of "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live," underscores the vitality and continued evolution of the project. There's so much going on -- in terms of instruments, arrangements, and ideas -- that it's hard to grasp it all on first listen. Then again, the warmth and passion exuded throughout make it easy to go back for seconds.