Peggy Seeger “First Farewell”

Red Grape Music, 2021

Potentially final album from folk stalwart addresses the ageing process through a family affair.

Peggy Seeger is more than just a fixture on the folk scene – at 85 she is releasing what may be her final album, although as a title ‘First Farewell‘ concedes a certain amount of hedging of bets, and represents over sixty years of recorded music which is a phenomenal achievement which, amongst American born singers only the likes of Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, and Dylan come anywhere close to equalling.  Peggy Seeger though has stayed close to her musical roots – traditional folk song and topical political song in a folk setting.  Apart from the sound quality being significantly improved compared to her early recordings solo and with Ewan MacColl the songs on ‘First Farewell‘ share a similar forthrightness in conveying their messages over the need for complex arrangements.   Admittedly the strident banjo has been replaced by piano, and the other restrained accompaniment is provided by sons Calum and Neill MacColl and Seeger’s daughter-in-law Kate St John.  It’s a family affair, which extends to song co-writes with Neill.

Many of the songs are songs of aging, ‘All in the Mind‘  describes the sense of loss of self that comes with the end of a working life, and perhaps further into that dread of mental crumbling and beyond “there isn’t a place where everything goes / everyone’s looking and everyone knows / there isn’t a way a map or a sign / everyone’s dreaming all in the mind” is an atheists acceptance.  A somewhat jollier take on the same theme is provided by ‘Gotta get Home by Midnight‘ which bounces through a mental de-aging process experienced from waking as thoughts follow older, and younger, paths through an active day until physical weariness lays the years back on one’s shoulders.  Or, put more simply, the feeling of not feeling that old and still enjoying experiences that were enjoyable ten, twenty, thirty years or more ago.  ‘The Invisible Woman‘ addresses the societal side-lining that comes as the years accrue, by turns quietly questioning and on the chorus stompingly annoyed “Here comes the Invisible Woman she’s been on the planet for years she has plenty say she won’t go away. the Invisible woman is here.”  Just to prove that all aspects of life have been thought about, the slyly double-entendre-ish ‘Lubrication‘ is about exactly what you think it is about: “gotta take part of moving parts they’re easily irritated / … / keep them lubricated.” Seeger gleefully sings.

Unsurprisingly the album also touches on political themes.  ‘How I Long Peace‘ is a gentle piano and voice call for an end to war, although there’s a despairing turn to it “I cannot understand how the sisters wives and mothers cannot stop the slaughter of the husbands sons and brothers” and an acknowledgement that “there never will be peace ’til men abandon fighting as the way to deal with problems that prevent us from uniting.”  But the overwhelming weight of the album is with the addressing of age and ageing and in particular the issues of woman aging in a youth-orientated society.   Topics that are not on youthful singer’s minds all that much, a deficit which this – possibly last – release from Peggy Seeger does much to rebalance.


About Jonathan Aird 2650 Articles
Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?
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