On "Live in the U.S.," Bright Morning Star sounds more like Tom Lehrer than Pete Seeger. This is a bit surprising from a group of six performers who have always played in the folk tradition at demonstrations and benefit concerts. This time around, though, it isn't Charlie King's acoustic guitar that sets the tone but George Fulginiti-Shakar's piano. Even when the group performs such protest classics as Phil Ochs' "I Ain't Marching Anymore" or Seeger's "Precious Friend," the vocals sound more like choral arrangements for a cabaret than sing-outs for a hootenanny.
This cabaret approach gives the group's leftist music a more accessible polish but also rounds off some of its more provocative edges. Since the group contains no dominant personalities, the new emphasis on ensemble vocals works better than solos. The comic material -- from Brecht & Weill's "Cannon Song" to King's "Friendly Fire" -- benefits from the snappy pacing and bright dynamics of cabaret. Similarly, the singalong tunes, such as Bill Staines' "Place in the Choir," get a rousing send-off from the Broadway belt-it-out delivery. What gets lost in this shift from folk to cabaret is the sense of irony and intimacy -- the very thing that makes Seeger a much more powerful artist than Lehrer. BRIGHT MORNING STAR -- "Live in the U.S." (Rainbow Snake); appearing in a benefit concert for the Coalition for the Homeless at the First Congregational Church this Saturday.