Hearing the Weavers' carefully orchestrated hits from the early '50s like "Goodnight Irene" and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" in the harsh, postmodern light of the 21st century, it's difficult to imagine how on earth this sweet-sounding folk quartet could ever have been considered a political threat. Rising out of the ashes of the loosely focused and defiantly political Almanac Singers, the Weavers (Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman and Ronnie Gilbert) were organized, focused and commercial from the start, and while the group didn't exactly hide their left wing politics on or off the stage, their recorded songs were decidedly neutral in message and tone. That doesn't mean that Decca Records had any idea what to do with the Weavers at first, but when the group's orchestrated version of Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" hit the top spot on the pop charts in 1950 and stayed there for weeks, the label threw strings on every folk song in sight. However dated and thin these sides now sound, the Weavers proved their was a pop market for old folk and gospel songs, and they set the stage for the commercial viability of the urban folk revival when it hit a decade later. The Weavers' most influential record, though, at least as far as the folk revival goes, was the live set released by Vanguard Records of the group's 1955 reunion concert at Carnegie Hall. Sans strings, the gentle strength of the Weavers' vocal and acoustic arrangements really shines through, and it's impossible to imagine groups like the Kingston Trio or Peter, Paul & Mary, two of the more commercial acts from the folk revival, without this stylistic template in place. Hard, Ain't It Hard collects all of the Weavers' key Decca tracks from the '50s, and taken with the 1955 Vanguardconcert material, forms a complete portrait of this historically important vocal group.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett