This last, loving collaboration between siblings in America’s “first family of folk” is a testimony to the timelessness of traditional folk songs. Contains the final recordings of the late Mike Seeger, solo artist and New Lost City Ramblers co-founder!
Fly Down Little Bird, recorded shortly before the influential “old-time” Southern music practitioner and folklorist Mike Seeger’s untimely 2009 death from cancer, celebrates the authentic sound and spirit of the traditional American folk songs that first inspired Mike and his younger sister Peggy’s equally significant musical career. It is suffused with love, of the music and each other, a poignant summation of a deep-rooted musical and family relationship.
Mike and Peggy were raised in a Depression-era household steeped in traditional acoustic folk songs then unfamiliar to all but a few Americans. With their mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, serving as transcriber of song collectors John and Alan Lomax’s “field recordings” from the East Coast’s mountains and hollows, her children absorbed the real music of our country. (Their much older half-brother, Pete Seeger, also visited occasionally, adding his music to the household.)
The fourteen songs on Fly Down Little Bird were, as Peggy says, “learned in childhood, recorded in adulthood.” Sharing lead and harmony vocals, Mike (banjos, harmonica, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, mandolin) and Peggy (banjo, guitar, piano, lap dulcimer) transport listeners into a world of spare arrangements, plainspoken and frequently pointed lyrics, and acoustic instruments. It’s a world they have helped to maintain as performers and documentarians as well as inspirations to young musicians over the last half-century.
Fly Down Little Bird, the third duo album by Mike and Peggy, contains still-valid social commentary on the greedy ways of the world, including “The Farmer is the Man,” the cheerfully amoral “The Dodger Song,” and the racially aware “Big Bee Suck the Pumpkin Stem” (“Black man hoe the cotton patch/And the white man tote the money”). There are mischievous, if somewhat frustrated, reflections on love (including “Old Bangum,” “Cindy,” and “Jennie Jenkins”) and the pangs of loneliness (“My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains,” “Poor Little Turtle Dove,” “Little Birdie”), plus the playful nonsense song, “Fod!” and the instrumental “Red River Jig.”
Mike’s devotion to preserving traditional Southern music in its original form – what he called “the true vine” of our country’s music – led to a performing and recording career that encompassed more than 40 albums, solo and with others, three dozen documentary recordings, numerous instructional videos, and six Grammy nominations. As a folklorist, he shone a light on previously little-known performers such as Elizabeth Cotton, Bill Monroe, Dock Boggs, and the Stoneman Family. The much-recorded New Lost City Ramblers, the group he cofounded in the late ’50s, has been recognized as a seminal influence by everyone from Bob Dylan to the Grateful Dead.
Peggy chose a different musical path to follow. While Mike immersed himself in the traditional southern American music, she “moved to England, into left-wing politics and songwriting.” Soon after her UK arrival, in 1956 she met Ewan MacColl, a performer and leader in the traditional British folk scene. She inspired his song, the 1972 Grammy-winning hit “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” and became his personal and profession partner in his campaign to relate folk traditions to modern life and political activism. Peggy’s career, mostly as a solo artist, has encompassed more than two dozen albums, more than a hundred other recordings, and authorship of hundreds of original songs, including feminist anthem “Gonna Be an Engineer” and the historically-based “Ballad of Springhill.” Her most recent of five previous Appleseed CDs, 2008’s Bring Me Home, was a Grammy nominee in the “Best Traditional Folk Recording” category.