Life is oddly democratic in how it gives us pain and our fate, in that all of us get hurt and we all get old. All of us. No one is safe. We all get tired and old and alone and happy and forgotten and used and abused and whatever else. Every single person reading this review has been treated unfairly, and treated someone the same. Every single person reading this review has loved something they feel like they shouldn’t have, or carries some regret. How does this relate to an album? More to come.
At 79 years of age, folk legend Peggy Seeger has delivered an album that would make her musical counterparts 50 years her junior blush with envy. Simply stated, Everything Changes is a triumph, featuring some of the best songs you’ll hear all year. Her writing is poignant, poetic without being pretentious. Her voice is as clear as it was half a century ago, and the playing is serviceable for such outstanding material. Production is clean and features surprising experimentation: the chilling Flowers by the Roadside begins with an ’80s pulsing synth undertow that would fit in a John Carpenter movie. Such delights abound throughout this collection.
The beauty of Seeger’s music can be heard in the track Go To Sleep – the jaunty xylophone and lilting vocals flowing with the calming refrain “Go to sleep, your mother is sleeping”- and is perfect late evening lullaby. The song Nero’s Children mingles pagan and judeo-christian icons in a surreal, with lines like “Nero’s Children play with matches, Noah’s children cannot swim,” and, “Split the sky, trample flowers,” while the jazz piano slides across the speakers, then: “Set the ice on fire/ Rome was built in a year, burnt in an hour.” Drums arrive suddenly, hinting at the futility of it all, the destruction of a prior civilization so much like our own.
Every song on this album is good. There is no filler. Day By Day, a song featuring the best description of dementia ever put down with lines like “A whole life lived, forgotten, then pushed aside,” When Fairy Stories End is gorgeous listening. The piano is mournful and touching without being saccharine. It’s the sound of bittersweet nostalgia that a person feels when they come home and are flooded with a thousand memories that they know they can never go back to; “Then we’ll turn the page and find another one… and never, never, never be alone.”
The Yiddish jazz talking blues Do You Believe In Me? plays a cavalcade of fictional childhood characters Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy interacting, breaking up the album’s dark material with a much-needed breather, and Over The Mountain To You (the most traditional folk arrangement) would make a grand campfire singalong. You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are is, fortunately or unfortunately, not a cover of that Keaton Henson song that made everybody cry a few years back, but an original composition which finds Seeger singing a sexy jazz tune about being an independent, strong woman. First recorded and released in 2000, this redone version features truly soulful vocals and horn, and is by far the better for it.
Miss Heroin, sung from the perspective of the drug itself, chills. Lou Reed wanted to try for the kingdom like some mad believer but Seeger takes a different perspective, Screwtape Letter and Sympathy for the Devil rolled together in some unholy mixture. The guitar plays a spiral melody and a scrunched digital whir shadows its burps and gasps in the cracks between, with decidedly unsubtle lyrics like, “And when I have entered deep in your veins/ craving me always will drive you insane/ You’d sell your own mother to pay for my charm/ and rick in contentment with me in your arms.” Seeger’s voice, pure and folksy, juxtaposes so well with this wary acid trip blues, like some Greenwich village diva landed a gig with The Doors and found the recording remixed by Radiohead.
The album ends with Everything Changes, a long reminisce where time collapses like all our jumbled memories. “But that was then, now is now, everything changes, somehow, the house I lived in, the town I lived in, everything changes,” sings Seeger. “You’ve been gone so long/ memories fade- it’s dark, and I’m afraid/ I’m your little girl child/ You’re own, you’re own/ Momma, time to call me home.”
Much of music revolves around the idea that the listener is unhappy, and therefore either gives pity or anger to fuel a fire. Everything Changes achieves something better, something more rare. It shows the ugly, difficult paths of life, be it addiction or loneliness or other burdens we all deal with everyday between pretending to have it all together, and assures us it’s all gonna be okay. This album can help a person be more thankful. It can literally make whoever hears it more appreciative of their life. That is worth commendation. That Seeger has done this in such an organic, natural manner is impressive, and for this reason – along with such excellent songs – is why Everything Changes is one of the best releases this year. Pick it up, buy it, listen to it, and cherish it. After the last note, life will seem a little brighter.