Because Bruce Springsteen's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions isn't the staid covers collection most people expected, it's tempting to think it's better than it is. A mere year after the dour acoustic record Devils & Dust—which garnered the grudging praise "not as boring as The Ghost Of Tom Joad"—the prospect of Springsteen indulging his fondness for hootenanny oldies sounded about as tempting as a lengthy lecture on Mississippi soil deposits. But We Shall Overcome is genuinely rollicking, as Springsteen and his untamed jug-band orchestra play songs of faith and fear, formerly performed (though not written) by Pete Seeger. The sound of a dozen musicians picking and blowing all at once is a reminder of how community sustains and uplifts us, and Springsteen maintains a light spirit throughout, even updating the workingman's lament "Pay Me My Money Down" with the line, "I wish I was Mr. Gates / They'd haul my money in crates."
Of course, Springsteen already has crates of money, but why let irony get in the way of a good tune? The bigger problem with We Shall Overcome—the only problem, really—is the usual late-period Springsteen bloat. It takes an hour to get through 12 songs, and while there isn't really a bum track, it would've been nice if the inspiration that Springsteen derived from these joyous old records had extended to an appreciation for their concision. This is one DualDisc that needs its DVD side to make sense of the whole project, since the video portion includes a 30-minute documentary that shows Springsteen leading his team through loose, friendly sessions at his house. Watching the songs is more exciting than just hearing them, and while this record remains absolutely likeable, it still sounds too much like the soundtrack for a concert that hasn't happened yet.