“Songs Of The Lincoln Brigade” by Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax, Baldwin Hawes and Tom Glazer - album review

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TJR says

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was initially an armed conflict between a democratically elected government and a revolt by far right-wing Spanish military officers led by Francisco Franco, who were supported by the fascist governments of Italy and Nazi Germany. Anti-fascist supporters flocked to Spain to help the beleaguered government, including over 3,000 American volunteers who formed the Lincoln Battalion of the International Brigades. More than half of those volunteers lost their lives. “These are the songs of men who left home and safety behind them in 1937 to fight Fascism four years before it was fashionable” as the liner notes so wryly put it.

Throughout his entire career as a performing artist, Pete Seeger has performed at more events celebrating the volunteers’ activism and celebrating their history than any other performer. And it all began with his two passions: music and progressive politics. “After the war was over I learned some of these songs from the returning Lincoln Vets,” he told an audience at NYU in the 1981. “I was 19, 20, 21 years old. I didn’t pronounce the Spanish right, but I was tremendously impressed by the heroism of the people that went to fight in Spain from different countries, the Internationalist spirit.”

At the behest of Spanish Civil War veterans in his circle, Moe Asch, with his typical good sense of capturing recordings of cultural significance, asked Pete to gather some musicians to frame the recent historical events on record. Said Pete: “When I found out Moe was willing to record it, I probably wrote to the Lincoln vets and said, ‘Hey, send me all the words to these songs so I can do ‘em.’ He called on established Almanacs Bess Lomax and Baldwin Hawes as well as his childhood friend, Tom Glazer, and, at short notice, they joined the whirlwind project, rehearsing on a Saturday, and taping on a Sunday while Seeger was on furlough from the US Army.

Recorded late in 1942, it's likely that the set was intended as the 6th Almanac Singers album (3 of the 4 were key members of the collective) but, by the time of release in 1943 it was decided that they should leave their poisoned brand identity behind, with the result being that this stands as the first of many albums to bear the name of Pete Seeger on the label's billing. “Songs of the Lincoln Brigade” (or “Songs of the Lincoln Battalion” if you prefer the label to the front cover!) features 6 traditionals, 3 of which, “Viva La Quince Brigada” (Long Live the 15th Brigade), “Spanish Marching Song” and “Quinto Regimento” (Fifth Regiment) are bravely rendered in Spanish. On reissue liner notes, folklorist Cary Ginell tells some great song background:

“The haunting melody for the Spanish marching song “Viva La Quince Brigada” (’Long Live the 15th Brigade’) comes from an old Spanish folk song that was later transformed by the Limeliters into a funereal lament for a loyal burro (“The Little Burro”), first heard on their debut LP for Elektra. “Jarama Valley” (sung to the tune of “Red River Valley”) marks a reunion of survivors of the 15th brigade of the Lincoln Battalion who were killed in a battle at Jarama in February 1937.

Spanish Marching Song”, otherwise known as “Si Me Quieres Escribir” (’If You Want to Write to Me’) celebrates the battle at Gandesa in 1938. The lyrics sardonically describe a typical meal at a Moorish cafe where diners are served hot grenades and shrapnel in a meal ‘you’ll all remember’. Pete Seeger used the song in the Weavers’ repertoire, and it was later recorded as “The Battle at Gandessa” by the Limeliters. “Cookhouse” is a brief sarcastic complaint about the food served to the soldiers, and includes the line ‘old soldiers never die, they just fade away’, which was most famously invoked by General Douglas MacArthur in his famous 1952 farewell speech (the quote had its origins in Britain during World War I). The melody used for “The Young Man from Alcala” comes from a 19th century song called “Yip-Ay-Addie-I-Ay” that was later adapted as the theme song for the animated spinach-loving seafarer, Popeye, in the 1930s.

Quinto Regimiento” (’The 5th Regiment’) combines two melodies from Andalusian (“El Vito”) and Spanish tradition (“El Contrabandista”) in a song about the 70,000-man strong 5th regiment, formed by the Spanish communists that defended Madrid against the fascists in July 1936. It is said that the words to the refrain (’Venga Jaleo’) were penned by the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca. As with “Cookhouse”, “Quartermaster Song” also features griping about food, and has its origins in another old British army song called “The Quartermaster’s Store”. With its easy adaptability for endless verses, the song has since been adapted as a campfire song by the Boy Scouts.”

Pete Seeger’s well-read gang are shooting for the right team here, and they do a great job in getting their message across in an entertaining fashion, despite the sobering subject matter. By the time of these recordings, the main man, at only 23, was already a worldly, battle-hardened folk-star in every sense. There are Spaniards who refer to this album as an inspiration in their epic struggle for freedom in the decades that followed. Now that's what I call a communicator!

The Jukebox Rebel
21-Jun-2012


A [02:48] 7.2.png Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax, Baldwin Hawes and Tom Glazer - Viva La Quince Brigada (Traditional) Folk
B [02:48] 7.5.png Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax, Baldwin Hawes and Tom Glazer - Jarama Valley (Traditional) Folk
C [02:39] 7.8.png Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax, Baldwin Hawes and Tom Glazer - Spanish Marching Song (Traditional) Folk
D [02:39] 7.3.png Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax, Baldwin Hawes and Tom Glazer - Cookhouse / The Young Man From Alcala (Traditional) Folk
E [02:21] 8.9.png Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax, Baldwin Hawes and Tom Glazer - Quinto Regimiento (Traditional) Folk
F [02:06] 6.7.png Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax, Baldwin Hawes and Tom Glazer - Quartermaster Song (Traditional) Folk




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