Pete Seeger’s unlikely late-career resurgence continues with Live in ’65, Appleseed Recordings’ latest contribution to the folk icon’s vast catalog. Culled from a performance at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Music Hall, these previously unreleased recordings capture Seeger in his post-blacklist prime, leading a loudly appreciative audience through a 31-song set of standards, covers, and originals, including “Oh Susanna,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!” “This Little Light of Mine,” “Greensleeves,” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”
The fidelity, as you might imagine, is a little suspect; though the tapes were cleaned up using the Plangent Process (recently used to tremendous effect on Woody Guthrie’s The Live Wire), they’re still more than 40 years old — and getting a pristine live recording out of Seeger was a tricky proposition anyway, because he had a tendency to move around the stage, and cared more about getting the crowd to sing along than putting himself squarely in the mix. The result is an album that sometimes sounds like it’s been swaddled in cotton, but believe it or not, that doesn’t make Live in ’65 any less entertaining — in fact, I think it adds to its charm: Seeger sounds so loose and carefree here that the imperfections make perfect sense.
Releasing old concerts like this one is often the mark of a desperate label, but Live in ’65 is well worth owning for any Seeger fan — and dodgy audio aside, it’s actually not a bad gateway for the Seeger novice, not least because it presents him as more than just a cardigan-clad, deadly serious battler of social ills. Here, you hear him in his element as a storyteller, comedian, musical anthropologist, and — above all — an entertainer. Armed with nothing more than his voice, a banjo, and a 12-string guitar, Seeger held the crowd in the palm of his hand during this concert — and he’ll hold you there, too, because these songs, and these performances, are every bit as essential now as they were in 1965. Appleseed has proven itself a worthy custodian of Seeger’s legacy for over a decade, and Live in ’65 adds a deeper glow to an already finely burnished American icon. Buy it with pride.