"When it was our 20th anniversary I decided to do an anniversary CD, but I wanted to make it relevant to the world of today," Appleseed founder Jim Musselman tells Billboard. "I basically wanted to get some songs that captured the essence of Appleseed and were very pertinent to what's happening in the United States at the moment. That took a while." Nevertheless, Musselman's ambition was met with resounding support from those he approached.
"I was really honored and humbled, because every artist came through," he says. "They were 100 percent on board -- almost instantaneously."
But while the administration of President Donald Trump is certainly in the implied crosshairs throughout Roots and Branches, Musselman did not want the album to be simply another piece of opposition to the regime. "I intentionally stayed away from that," he explains. "I believe issues are always there. If you address issues, that's what's important. It's more about facing issues and solving issues than the person who's running the country right now -- who I strongly oppose of course. I feel like he will be gone pretty quickly, but the issues will remain."
Roots and Branches' new songs are certainly timeless and topical. Russell recorded "Across the Border" near the New Mexico/Mexico line. Morello tweaked AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)" to include references to "fake news" and U.S. Foreign policy. Hill's "Need of Death" addresses the current heroin epidemic. And Harding's new "Scared of Guns" resonates even more now than when he first released it in 1990.
"I've never done anything like that," Harding says, "but I love Appleseed, with whom I've had a lengthy association, and I thought this was a great opportunity to have the song speak again in the time of NRA, Parkland, Santa Fe, Trump, and so forth - everything since Columbine, really. So I rewrote the lyric entirely and re-recorded it." His daughter, meanwhile reads a long and yet still incomplete list "of the politicians who happily receive massive funding from the NRA, then deliver meaningless thoughts and prayers at times of crisis. Since she's school age, it's appropriate to hear this news delivered by her."
"Get It Right One Day," meanwhile, is another Holy Grail moment in the package. "Jesse Winchester's an artist I respected and admire," Musselman says. "He was just a wonderful human being, and we gave his career a second wind. We contacted his wife to see if there were any unreleased song and he had half-finished ('Get It Right') and Jimmy and Mac just spent time cleaning it up. It's Jesse's last song, and incredibly beautiful. It's so relevant but also a wonderful celebration of Jesse as a human being."
Musselman is happy that Roots and Branches will add context as well as new material to the resistance. But at the same time he also hopes the album adds to the story of the Grammy Award-winning label and its commitment to activism as well as preserving the role of folk and roots music in the marketplace.
"I think the one thing we're most proud of is we've always been on the right side of history," Musselman says. "We took chances politically in stepping way out to oppose the Iraq war and (support) gay rights and peace in Northern Ireland. We always took strong chances, but history has proven we're on the right side of those issues, which means a lot to me. I always like to say I'm way out on the edge of the branch, but eventually everyone will join us there. We're just a link in the chain from Paul Robeson to Woody Guthrie to Pete Seeger and beyond. We're just carrying on the mission."
Roots and Branches Track List:
DISC ONE – “Let the Truth Be Told”
1.Pete Seeger – Oh Sacred World
2.Bruce Springsteen – If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)
3.Tom Morello – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
4.Tim Robbins – Well May the World Go
5.Joan Baez – I Wish the Wars Were All Over
6.Pete Seeger with Billy Bragg, Ani DiFranco, Steve Earle and Anne Hills – Bring Them Home (If You Love Your Uncle Sam)
7.Tom Russell – Across the Border
8.Johnny Clegg – Love in the Time of Gaza
9.John Wesley Harding (w/ Corporal Quorum) – Scared of Guns (Amended)
10.Sweet Honey in the Rock – Second Line Blues
11.Anne Hills – Needle of Death
12.Natalie Merchant & Friends – There is No Good Reason
13.The Kennedys – Give Me Back My Country
14.Studs Terkel – Blessed Be the Nation
15.Tom Morello – This Land is Your Land
16.Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome
17.Pete Seeger – Dr. King on Violence
DISC TWO – “Wisdom Keepers”
1.Jesse Winchester – Get It Right One Day
2.Donovan – Poorman’s Sunshine
3.Dick Gaughan – Land of the North Wind
4.Tom Paxton & Anne Hills – Follow that Road
5.Al Stewart – Katherine of Oregon
6.Jonathan Edwards – Surrounded
7.Jackson Browne & Bonnie Raitt – Kisses Sweeter than Wine
8.Angel Band – Jump Back in the Ditch
9.Eric Andersen – Gonna Go Crazy
10.Tom Rush – What I Know
11.Sweet Honey in the Rock – IDK, But I’m LOL
12.Lizzie West & the White Buffalo – Portrait of an Artist as a Young Woman (Thank You)
13.Joel Rafael Band with Jackson Browne, Jimmy LaFave and Arlo Guthrie – Stepstone
14.Tom Paxton – Looking for the Moon
15.Pete Seeger and Lorre Wyatt with Emmylou Harris – Somos El Barco/We Are the Boat
16.John Stewart – There is Love (Wedding Song)
17.Jesse Winchester – Sham-a-Ling-Dong-Ding
18.Dick Gaughan – When I’m Gone
DISC THREE – “Keeping the Songs Alive”
1.John Gorka – The Water is Wide
2.David Bromberg with Levon Helm – Bring it With You When You Come
3.Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – Roving Gambler
4.Tim Eriksen – Careless Love
5.Donovan – Wild Mountain Thyme
6.Roger McGuinn with Judy Collins – John Riley
7.John Wesley Harding – Canadee-I-O
8.Bernice Johnson Reagon with Kim & Reggie Harris – Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep
9.Pete Seeger – Going Across the Mountain
10.Frank Proffitt – Tom Dooley
11.Guardabarranco – Asturias
12.Lila Downs – El Quinto Regimiento
13.Aoife Clancy – Are You Sleepin’, Maggie?
14.Alec Stone Sweet – Mrs. Poer, or, The Concerto
15.Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin – Sow ‘Em on the Mountain
16.Steve Young – Little Birdie
17.Mike Seeger and Peggy Seeger – Cindy
18.Sharon Katz & the Peace Train – Sanalwami
19.Danny Glover and Rev. Robert B. Jones, Sr. – Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning
20.Kim and Reggie Harris – Wade in the Water
21.John Stewart & Darwin’s Army – Bay of Mexico
22.Tommy Sands with Dolores Keane and Vedran Smailovic – Where Have All the Flowers Gone