Kronos Quartet & Friends | Long Time Passing
First, what this is not. This is not a covers album along the lines of “Kronos Quartet Plays the Hits of Pete Seeger.” This is a Kronos Quartet album first and foremost, in which the four instrumentalists celebrate the musical and cultural impact of “the godfather of folk protest,” emphasizing the social justice aspect of his life and career. Except for a couple of contemporary numbers, the program includes songs written or cowritten by Seeger himself (about half) and songs that in one way or the other were associated with him, mostly in arrangements fusing old-time string-band sounds with Kronos’s avant-classical aesthetic. A dozen or so musical “friends”—mostly vocalists—help Kronos reanimate and reimagine the material; these include Sam Amidon, Aoife O’Donovan, Brian Carpenter, and Lee Knight.
The hits indeed are all here: versions of “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” and “Turn, Turn, Turn,” bump up against lesser-known tunes, including Seeger’s “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram,” in which Seeger transposed a Hindu devotional song to banjo (just a year or so before the Beatles discovered raga), plus songs about the Spanish Civil War, the environment, and the mournful labor ballad “Step by Step.” Zoe Mulford’s recent “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” here given an emotionally resonant delivery by Ethio-American vocalist Meklit, also stands out. The highlight, however, is Jacob Garchik’s epic, 16-minute sonic collage, interspersing and juxtaposing Seeger recordings and audio clips with Kronos’s exquisitely rendered avant-Americana.