Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal....
Released April 2006
Running time 60:34
Now, it all depends upon whether this is to your taste or not. It is an album of depression era/dustbowl and earlier traditional folk songs made popular by folk singer/activist Pete Seeger in the 1940s and onwards. They are (largely) not done in a stark acoustic Nebraska style or like Bob Dylan's Good As I Been To You album, but with a tub-thumping, Irish-influenced large entourage holed up at Springsteen's ranch. The only link to the E. St Band is violinist Soozie Tyrell. Instruments used include the said violin, tuba, banjo, accordion. You get the idea. It is good-time, down a few drinks and singalong folk exemplified in songs like Old Dan Tucker, O Mary Don't You Weep, Jacob's Ladder and Pay Me My Money Down. It is a freewheeling, joyous, infectious romp and you know that everyone had a great time recording it. It is fun. Pure and simple. Where it falls down, for me, is that it lacks some hard-hitting "message" songs and emotional impact at times.
It is delivered by an enthusiastic, growling Springsteen putting on his best old pioneer on the plains accent, while rollicking banjo leads us on one great big "yee-haw" hoedown. It is all pretty addictive stuff and these is a case for saying it is the liveliest Springsteen album of all. Such a painstaking artist in the studio, yet such a spontaneous live performer, he applies the latter trait to the performance on the album. It is performed "live", you can hear him counting in the band and introducing the instruments and consequently, there is a stress-free looseness to the album that is most endearing.
1. Old Dan Tucker
2. Jesse James
3. Mrs. McGrath
4. O Mary Don't You Weep
5. John Henry
6. Erie Canal
7. Jacob's Ladder
8. My Oklahoma Home
9. Eyes On The Prize
11. Pay Me My Money Down
12. We Shall Overcome
13. Froggie Went A-Courtin'
14. Buffalo Gals
15. How Can I Keep From Singing
16. How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live
17. Bring 'Em Home
18. American Land
Springsteen's own folk songs, though, such as on Nebraska and The Ghost Of Tom Joad are often masterpieces of melancholic, no hope narratives. You don't get much of that on here. At times it can all sound a tiny bit corny, however. For me, the best cut on the album is the beautifully mournful Shenandoah where the soulful, sadness of Springsteen's voice comes in to its own.
When Springsteen does go a bit folky Dylan, as on Mrs. McGrath is is very effective. Those are my favourite parts of the album, when Springsteen gets serious. I can't help but love Erie Canal too, in the same way. That has always been the way for me with Springsteen. However, that said, the full band, rousing instrumental ending to Jesse James is just extremely enjoyable, and exemplifies exactly why so many people love this album. Indeed, the instrumental soloing throughout the album is invigorating and a joy to listen to. Check out the Cajun bit on John Henry, followed by the banjo. Great stuff.
I have to admit to a huge weakness for the non-album bonus track, the Celtic fiddle and whistle romp of the narrative tale of immigration to the US of American Land. How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live is another good one too, dating quite a way back. There is so much history on this collection, it has to be said, a veritable cornucopia of Americana.
I don't actually dig this album out very much, but whenever I do, I really enjoy it, so I guess therein lies its down-home, energetic, uplifting appeal.