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Various Artists

Appleseed's 21st Anniversary: Roots and Branches – 2018 (Appleseed)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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For more than two decades, Appleseed Recordings have been releasing politically charged, contemporary and traditionally-rooted folk music.

Using those three themes to organize each disc in this three-volume set - protest folk, singer-songwriter folk and traditional folk - Appleseed provides a engrossing cross-section of their 165 releases with a treasure of unreleased recordings intermingled. Connections to country music are largely transitory: the appearance of Steve Earle with Pete Seeger and others - whose music and voice is a continuous presence across 3 1/2 hours of music - on a live take of "Bring Them Home," for example. Of course, the foundational spark of country music appears throughout the third disc of traditional songs including "Roving Gambler," "Tom Dooley" and "Little Birdie."

Of significant interest to many will be the inclusion of numerous previously unreleased recordings, headlined by Bruce Springsteen's raspy "If I Had A Hammer," the provenance of which is not stated but - based on personnel - appears an outtake from "The Seeger Sessions." Springsteen devotees will also appreciate Tom Russell's recent, stark recording of "Across The Border."

Tom Morello recharges AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," providing additional political/protest context. Two departed legends - John Stewart and Jesse Winchester - are represented with unreleased gems. Stewart's take of Paul Stookey's "There Is Love (Wedding Song)" is vulnerable, fragile and honest. Winchester's "Get It Right One Day," a song left unfinished upon his death, retains hope and clarity.

Donovan's "Wild Mountain Thyme" is simply stunning, while John Wesley Harding updates his "Scared of Guns (Amended)" in light of the Parkland High murders. Anne Hills' timely interpretation of Bert Jansch's "Needle of Death" defines poignancy, while Tim Robbins' "Well May The World Go" captures some of Seeger's vibrancy and joy for life.

Augmented by selections from some of the finest folk recordings of the last two decades - with tracks from Sweet Honey in the Rock, Angel Band, Johnny Clegg, Joan Baez, The Kennedys, Dick Gaughan (Appleseed's first release), a little-heard number by Seeger and Lorre Wyatt featuring Emmylou Harris - 57 songs and spoken word interludes in all, "Appleseed's 21st Anniversary: Roots and Branches" is a collection to cherish. And to play the heck outta.