FolkWorld #67 11/2018
© Appleseed Recordings

Appleseed’s 21st Anniversary: Roots and Branches

Appleseed Music

A 3-CD collection celebrating Appleseed Recordings includes highlights from the label’s catalogue and exclusive, previously-unreleased tracks from Donovan, John Wesley Harding, Tim Robbins, Bruce Springsteen, Jesse Winchester and others!

Roots and Branches The independent, idealistic Appleseed Recordings label has been releasing new and archival CDs of folk/roots-oriented music by many of the genre’s greatest performers for more than two decades. On October 19, the Pennsylvania-based label will release Apple- seed’s 21st Anniversary: Roots and Branches, a deluxe three-CD, 57-track set that combines nine new / previously unreleased songs by high-profile friends of the label including Bruce Springsteen, rap/metal guitarist/activist Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Prophets of Rage), singer/songwriter/novelist John Wesley Harding, Americana titan Tom Russell, and actor/musician Tim Robbins with highlights from past releases by such musical giants as Pete Seeger, Donovan, Tom Rush, Jesse Winchester, Al Stewart, Sweet Honey in the Rock, David Bromberg, Tom Paxton and Jonathan Edwards.

The full-color 32-page booklet accompanying the 3-CD set contains extensive notes about the label, its mission, and reflections on its artists by its founder and president, Jim Musselman, a former safety and environmental lawyer who worked with Ralph Nader. The label has released 165 CDs and more than 3000 songs to date.

Roots and Branches Each of the set’s three discs is devoted to a separate aspect of the label’s focus. Disc 1 contains politically-oriented songs addressing contemporary issues such as racism, gun violence, immigration, homelessness, the opioid epidemic, war, poverty, corporate greed and political corruption. Standout tracks include Springsteen’s unreleased “If I Had a Hammer”, Morello’s acidic rewrite of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” to confront our nation’s current political morass and Harding’s scorching update of his 1990 song “Scared of Guns (Amended).”

Roots and Branches Disc 2 presents the universal artistry of modern singer-songwriters whose songs are built on personal experiences and observations. Newly released recordings by two wonderful musicians now deceased – Jesse Winchester (the exquisite “Get It Right One Day”) and John Stewart (“There is Love [The Wedding Song]”) sit alongside handpicked selections from Appleseed’s formidable roster.

Roots and Branches Disc 3 represents the roots of Appleseed’s “dedicated exploring to the roots and branches of folk and world music” mission statement. Here are 22 songs, some hundreds of years old, some brought to our country by immigrants, all still vibrant. Donovan’s previously unreleased “Wild Mountain Thyme” joins other traditional songs by Roger McGuinn with Judy Collins, David Bromberg with Levon Helm, the three Seegers (Pete, Mike and Peggy), the original version of late-’50s folk hit “Tom Dooley,” and an international array of artists (Ireland’s Tommy Sands and Aoife Clancy, Mexico’s Lila Downs, and others).

Various Artists "APPLESEED’S 21st ANNVERSARY: Roots and Branches", Appleseed Music, 2018

Founded in 1997 by activist attorney Jim Musselman, Appleseed Recordings is an independent, idealistic and internationally distributed record label devoted to releasing socially conscious contemporary, folk and roots music by a wide array of established and lesser-known musicians. The West Chester, Pa.-based company’s approach has led to a catalogue of mor than 100 well-respected CDs, two Grammy Awards, ten Grammy nominations, and, most importantly, has produced music that is actually helping to change the world.

Appleseed’s roster includes CDs by such enduring folk stars as Pete Seeger (one of Musselman’s leading inspirations), Donovan, Tom Paxton, former Byrds leader and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Roger McGuinn, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Al Stewart, Eric Andersen, and Holly Near, and a younger generation of sociopolitically aware musicians that includes John Wesley Harding, Christine Lavin, Kim and Reggie Harris and The Kennedys. Among the guest artists who have participated in Appleseed releases are Joan Baez, Steve Earle, Ani DiFranco, Wyclef Jean and Billy Bragg, all creative firebrands.

What has led such a caravan of musical giants to Appleseed’s door is the label’s policy of giving full creative control to its artists. There’s no demand for a hit single (although we wouldn’t reject one), no corporate ownership dictating censorship of controversial lyrics, and loving attention is paid to packaging that’s eye-catching and informative. With national distribution by Koch Entertainment Distribution LLC, international distribution in twenty countries, and digital download sales through all the major US download sites, Appleseed music is readily available to listeners everywhere.

Following its original mission statement of “sowing the seeds of social justice through music and exploring the roots and branches of folk and world music,” the label has released CDs of lasting and historical value. There are albums of Underground Railroad and Spanish Civil War songs, archival recordings of previously unreleased traditional American folk ballads, a fund-raising CD to combat homelessness, and expanded reissues of out-of-print LPs alongside the contemporary music in Appleseed’s catalogue. The company also backs up its altruistic outlook by contributing a percentage of its profits to environmental, human rights, and other progressive organizations.

One of Appleseed’s first and most influential projects was Where Have All the Flowers Gone, a 2-CD multi-artist set devoted to mostly exclusive new versions of songs originally written, adapted or performed by international folk/activist icon Pete Seeger, a leading inspiration to Musselman. The 1998 release, the first of our three Seeger tributes, featured such notables as Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt (on a Grammy-nominated duet), a pantheon of other folk/roots music greats, actor Tim Robbins, writer Studs Terkel, and Bruce Springsteen. Musselman had approached Springsteen with a wish list of 14 Seeger songs to pick from; “The Boss” wound up recording a half-dozen tracks and submitted a tenderly sung rendition of the African-American spiritual/civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” Years after its inclusion in the first of Appleseed’s three tributes to Seeger’s music, and years before Springsteen reused the recording (and many other songs suggested by Musselman) as the title track of his 2006 We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions CD, Bruce’s version of the song was used by NBC-TV news as the soundtrack to a video montage of self-sacrifice and suffering in New York City in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, broadcast nightly for a week. Grieving families also played the song for comfort in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. The title song of Appleseed’s first Seeger tribute, recorded by Irish singers Tommy Sands and Delores Keane, Vedran “The Cellist of Bosnia”) Smailovic, and a chorus of Catholic and Protestant Irish school children, was played daily outside the peace negotiations between Northern Ireland and England and was described by Minister of Parliament John Hume as “a vital bridge of hope and healing between the two sides.”

The Appleseed/Seeger/Springsteen connection has continued in recent years. In 2003, Musselman added some updated lyrics to Pete Seeger’s Vietnam-era protest, “Bring Them Home” and recorded Seeger’s new version on the day of the US invasion of Iraq for inclusion on 2003’s Grammy-nominated Seeds, the third of Appleseed’s Seeger tributes. Springsteen subsequently added still more lyrics when he performed the song on many of his “Seeger Sessions” tour dates, performed the song on “The Late Show with Jay Leno” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and a live recording has been included in updated versions of Springsteen’s CD/DVD.

As a longtime activist who worked with consumer advocate Ralph Nader to champion various safety and environmental causes, including the mandatory installation of airbags in motor vehicles, Musselman finds great satisfaction in combining his commitment to social justice with his passion for music: “We are more than a record label – we are a vision, in many ways using music as a tool of social change and peace. We also are unlike most labels in that we initiate many of our projects and then approach artists to share that vision.

Disc One: Let the Truth Be Told. Pete Seeger – Oh Sacred World || Bruce Springsteen – If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song) * || Tom Morello – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap * || Tim Robbins – Well May the World Go * || Joan Baez – I Wish the Wars Were All Over || Pete Seeger with Billy Bragg, Ani DiFranco, Steve Earle & Anne Hills – Bring Them Home (If You Love Your Uncle Sam) || Tom Russell – Across the Border * || Johnny Clegg – Love in the Time of Gaza || John Wesley Harding (w/ Corporal Quorum) – Scared of Guns (Amended) * || Sweet Honey in the Rock – Second Line Blues || Anne Hills – Needle of Death * || Natalie Merchant & Friends – There is No Good Reason || The Kennedys – Give Me Back My Country || Studs Terkel – Blessed Be the Nation || Tom Morello – This Land is Your Land || Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome || Pete Seeger – Dr. King on Violence

Disc Two: The Wisdom Keepers. Jesse Winchester – Get It Right One Day * || Donovan – Poorman’s Sunshine || Dick Gaughan – Land of the North Wind || Tom Paxton & Anne Hills – Follow that Road || Al Stewart – Katherine of Oregon || Jonathan Edwards – Surrounded || Jackson Browne & Bonnie Raitt – Kisses Sweeter than Wine || Angel Band – Jump Back in the Ditch || Eric Andersen – Gonna Go Crazy || Tom Rush – What I Know || Sweet Honey in the Rock – IDK, But I’m LOL || Lizzie West & the White Buffalo – Portrait of an Artist as a Young Woman (Thank You) || Joel Rafael Band with Jackson Browne, Jimmy LaFave and Arlo Guthrie – Stepstone || Tom Paxton – Looking for the Moon || Pete Seeger and Lorre Wyatt with Emmylou Harris – Somos El Barco/We Are the Boat || John Stewart – There is Love (Wedding Song) * || Jesse Winchester – Sham-a-Ling-Dong-Ding || Dick Gaughan – When I’m Gone

Disc Three: Keeping the Songs Alive. John Gorka – The Water is Wide || David Bromberg with Levon Helm – Bring it With You When You Come || Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – Roving Gambler || Tim Eriksen – Careless Love || Donovan – Wild Mountain Thyme * || Roger McGuinn with Judy Collins – John Riley || John Wesley Harding – Canadee-I-O || Bernice Johnson Reagon with Kim & Reggie Harris – Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep || Pete Seeger – Going Across the Mountain || Frank Proffitt – Tom Dooley || Guardabarranco – Asturias || Lila Downs – El Quinto Regimiento || Aoife Clancy – Are You Sleepin’, Maggie? || Alec Stone Sweet – Mrs. Poer, or, The Concerto || Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin – Sow ‘Em on the Mountain || Steve Young – Little Birdie || Mike Seeger and Peggy Seeger – Cindy || Sharon Katz & the Peace Train – Sanalwami || Danny Glover and Rev. Robert B. Jones, Sr. – Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning || Kim and Reggie Harris – Wade in the Water || John Stewart & Darwin’s Army – Bay of Mexico || Tommy Sands with Dolores Keane and Vedran Smailovic – Where Have All the Flowers Gone

* Exclusive New Recording

The Kennedys John Wesley Harding John Gorka Pete Seeger Eric Anderson Tom Paxton
Joan Baez Lila Downs Johnny Clegg Kim & Reggie Harris Dick Gaughan Donovan Tommy Sands

Photo Credits: (1)-(4) Appleseed Recordings, (5) The Kennedys, (6) John Wesley Harding, (7) John Gorka, (8) Pete Seeger, (9) Eric Anderson, (10) Tom Paxton, (11) Joan Baez, (12) Lila Downs, (13) Johnny Clegg, (14) Kim & Reggie Harris, (15) Dick Gaughan, (16) Donovan, (17) Tommy Sands (unknown/website).

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