Saturday, January 22, 2011

Peter, Paul & Mary (1962), continued

(Well, this is a good part of why I blog. I wrote that long thing, and then the very next day I had PP&M on the iPod while walking to work, and lo & behold darned if I wasn't just purely enjoying it. It was almost as if the act of working through my feelings'n'thought about it in writing had, not really exorcised them, but at least put them to rest enough that I could move on and just listen, undistracted, to the music.)

So to be fair, there's probably a little more to be said about PP&M's first album. Like, maybe it's worth trying to be fair, and say something about it that doesn't burden it with several generations' worth of stuff.

I think PP&M's first album may have been their best. It doesn't contain all of their biggest hits - if you like them you wouldn't want to be without "Puff" or "Blowin' In The Wind" or a few other classics that would subsequently appear. But their debut album is probably the one that works best as a straight-through listening experience: as an album, in other words (and let's not forget the key role the Folk Revival played in establishing the long-player over the single as the dominant format for pop music).

Part of what makes it work is the variety. A good example of their pop professionalism was that they zeroed in on several different things that they could do well: up-tempo gospel-revivaly songs ("Early In The Morning," "If I Had My Way"), brooding Appalachian-type ballads ("500 Miles," "Sorrow"), and children's songs ("It's Raining," "Autumn To May," and probably "Bamboo" and "Lemon Tree" as well). They weren't as convincing at some other things, as we'd eventually find out; but here they identify their strengths, and stick to them. Add to this two of the greatest early protest anthems ("If I Had A Hammer" and "Where Have All The Flowers Gone"), and you have a pretty unbeatable selection of songs.

And they deploy them in a smart sequence: the two sides of the record open with the rousing gospel numbers, and then take us through a succession of moods including sorrow, contemplation, whimsy, ebullience, yearning, wry humor. What I'm trying to say is that if you like this kind of music, you couldn't find a better presentation of it.

And: surprise: I guess I like it. It has a lot of the musical values that have always attracted me, no matter what genre I'm in: strong sense of melody, careful effective arrangements, awareness of roots, love of rhythm. And it has a lot of specifics that I still find delightful: acoustic guitars that capture both the woody roots and whispery leaves of the folk tree (as it were!), and voices in full harmony.

Highly recommended.

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