Peggy Seeger: First Farewell review - lively, blunt and irreverent songs from folk’s first lady
First Farewell is a wilfully playful title for Seeger’s 24th solo album. It hints towards the song her late husband Ewan MacColl famously wrote for her, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, and the way she laughs on its cover, her eyes to the sky, suggests she’s not done yet at 85.
It’s apparently her last album of originals, written and recorded with her family (musician sons Calum and Neill, and Neill’s partner, composer Kate St John). Her spry, lively vocals and her writing burrow into many territories: digital communication, environmental collapse, feminism, love and time, the latter nestling closest to the folksongs for which she became known. Dandelion and Clover presents a little girl waiting for a little boy to come round to play; a year later he dies, but then later he marries her. Other songs slip-slide gorgeously between magical realism and memory, such as Lullabies for Strangers, The Puzzle and Tree of Love, written for her partner of 30 years, Irene Pyper-Scott.
Seeger can also be bluntly irreverent in lyric and musical mood (Randy Newman’s clownish swagger and Dolly Parton’s country smartness are present throughout). The Invisible Woman traces what happens when women age and get ignored (she loved being “the belle of the ball”), while Lubrication uses a greasy metaphor to raise eyebrows (“gotta take care of moving parts … they’re easily irritated”). The finale, Gotta Get Home By Midnight, is superb: a twisted Cinderella narrative about a woman getting younger by the minute as the clock winds towards the witching hour, and her meeting a grey, curly-haired Prince Charming. “That little glass slipper just fitted me fine,” she sings, waspishly. She’ll be back.