Bruce Springsteen, rock 'n' roll icon, stands on a cramped Jersey shore stage surrounded by 16 musicians. There's a fiddle, a banjo, a tuba, an accordion -- and not a single electric guitar.
The music swells, a glorious noise, as Springsteen leans into the microphone and sings a familiar song: "He floats through the air with the greatest of ease, the daring young man on the flying trapeze."
The vintage tale of a high-flying, womanizing circus star is followed by "Poor Man," a reworking of a Blind Alfred Reed song from the 1920s. This is the music of the moment for Springsteen: folk songs from decades past as he releases an album of songs culled from the Pete Seeger catalogue.
Bob Dylan once went electric. This is Springsteen going eclectic.
"The songs have lasted 100 years, or hundreds of years, for a reason," Springsteen explains in a spartan dressing room after rehearsing with his new big band. "They were really, really well-written pieces of music.
"They have worlds in them. You just kind of go in -- it's a playground. You go in, and you get to play around."
"We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions" arrives Tuesday, with a tour to follow (including a trip to New Orleans for the Jazz and Heritage Festival). Springsteen, still damp with perspiration from his rehearsal, sat backstage for a 40-minute interview with The Associated Press that covered his musical past, present and future.
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