Take one spiritual, three two parts Dixieland, and a dash of Gypsy violin and you have Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band’s version of “O, Mary Don’t You Weep.” The Seeger Sessions was Bruce Springsteen’s attempt to take folk songs made popular by Pete Seeger and interpret the songs in a larger band context. As far as I am concerned, the experiment worked; however, the application of Seeger name sometimes confused the public, so midway during the tour and with the subsequent release of the CD and DVD, Pete’s name was eliminated.
Like many spirituals, the song is hybridization of several biblical stories to infuse hope to a people in chains. It is said that the Mary referred to in the song is Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, and here weeping was caused by the death of her brother. The illustration is – no matter how bad it will get, it will eventually get better.
One thing that I have been curious about in this song and about a half-dozen others is the line, “Mary wore three links of chain . . . every link was my Jesus’ name.” This is a frequent lyrical refrain that makes its way into other songs such as “Gospel Plow,” “Morning Train,” “All er my Sins are Taken Away,” and “Mary Wore Three Links of Chain.”
The significance must be related to the bondage of slavery as the line is extra-biblical in nature. Later versions of these songs as adopted by the Civil Rights Movement replaced the line, “every link was my Jesus’ name” to “every link was freedom’s name.”
Springsteen and company are a fine group of musicians that feature Charles Giordano on piano and accordion, Sam Bardfeld on violin, Curt Ramm on trumpet, and Clark Gayton on trombone. Check out Ramm’s trumpet – he’s playing lines that you would normally associate with a clarinet in a Dixieland band. The song was recorded live at one of the shows in Dublin.
Good stuff from the boss.