Personnel: Peggy Seeger (vocals, guitar, banjo, dulcimer, autoharp, concertina, hand claps, percussion); Mike Seeger (vocals, guitar, 12-string guitar, banjo, dulcimer, autoharp, mandolin, fiddle, harmonica, Jew's harp, hand claps); Ewan MacColl, Mike MacCall (vocals).
Liner Note Authors: Mike Seeger; Peggy Seeger.
Recording information: Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London, England; Seeger Home, Garrett Park, MD.
Illustrator: Susan Marsh.
The nearly 100 songs collected on this two-disc set aren't necessarily for children (some of them, like the dark "When the Train Comes Along," have death as a theme, and others, like "What Did You Have for Supper," are floating snippets from large and tragic British ballads), and siblings Peggy and Mike Seeger certainly don't sing them the way Mr. Rogers would in his neighborhood, preferring instead to deliver the songs in the rough and ragged manner in which they were probably sung in the first place in the Appalachians and elsewhere, which makes American Folksongs for Children as much a lesson in history and sociology as anything else. It was also obviously a labor of love, since the songs selected are all drawn from the book by the same title originally published by Peggy and Mike's mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, in 1948. Most of the songs are quite brief (some fall well short of a minute long) and the arrangements are simple and sparse, accompanied by folk instruments that range from banjos and dulcimers to jaw harps and concertinas. No attempt was made to Disney anything up here, and as a result these songs have a sort of ancient, resilient feel about them, as if they were surviving fragments of a longer and darker story, which, in a very real way, they are. Taken together, and grouped loosely into themes (sea shanties, songs about weather, lullabies, songs about trains, etc.), these songs form a kind of suite to America as it existed in the early 1900s, before radio, television, and computers (and the conglomerates behind them) began to heavily influence what songs people ought to sing. Listeners should note that "Free Little Bird," listed as track 45 on the first disc, isn't actually there, and the lead track on disc two, "Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot," is there but isn't listed, which throws all of the track numbers off by one the rest of the way, which is either a minor problem or a major one, depending on how many kids are clamoring to hear "Dog Tick" (which is pretty darn infectious) one more time. ~ Steve Leggett