Consumer rights lawyer Jim Musselman founded folk/world music-oriented Appleseed Recordings in 1997, intending to “explore the roots and branches of folk and world music and sow the seeds of social justice through music”. In the decade since, they’ve released over 80 records fueled by political and social conscience, including three tributes to Pete Seeger. Consequently, it’s no surprise that Seeger and his songs dominate this anniversary compilation. Sowing the Seeds collects the best of Appleseed’s run so far, including nine new songs in its 2-CD, 37-track span. Disc One, entitled “And Justice for All”, focuses on hard-hitting political messages. Disc Two, “Peace, Love and Appleseed”, offers somewhat lighter fare.
Populated by the likes of Seeger, Tom Paxton, Donovan, Joan Baez, and Judy Collins, Sowing the Seeds is a strange beast: a collection of modern protest songs that sound like they emerged from a folk time machine, the garlands of flowers still fresh in their hair. Forty years after the heyday of protest folk, this collection of recent work is, ironically, one of the best exhibits you’ll find for this soaring, communal style of musical outreach. The set runs the gamut, from Ani DiFranco’s version of Seeger’s “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” to Peggy Seeger’s autoharp-laced, country-choir take on “Sing About These Hard Times” to Tom Paxton and Anne Hills’ earnest anti-mining treatise, “There Goes the Mountain”.
There are also a few cringe-inducing moments, most notably Tim Robbins’ “All My Children of the Sun”, on which he sounds like Bruce Campbell in full-on ham mode. Most compelling of all might be the internal debate that Sowing the Seeds instigates with your inner cynic: are the songs here as anachronistic—and even naive, in their lack of righteous anger—as they seem, or does the fact that their higher-ground approach seems strange mean that the forces of apathy and disillusionment are winning?