In July of 1966, the Kingston Trio began a three-week engagement at the Sahara Tahoe Hotel in Lake Tahoe. The trio and their manager considered it the beginning of their final 12 months as an active group, and had the tape recorders running -- the idea was that upon the announcement of their farewell tour, a double-LP live set would be in the can and ready to be released. But as it turned out, neither their current label, Decca Records, nor their prior label, Capitol Records -- which had issued three complete concert albums by the group -- was interested in issuing the farewell album. Instead, the record remained on the shelf until 1969, when Bill Cosby's Tetragrammaton Records issued Once Upon a Time; amazingly, the album made it into the lower regions of the Top 200 albums for six weeks (which leads one to suspect that Bob Shane had been correct in his commercial instincts, in his resistance to breaking up the trio in 1967). Tetragrammaton folded in the early '70s, and the resulting double LP is one of the rarest in the Kingston Trio's output, which is sad -- the best of their concert recordings since those renowned live recordings of 1958, it captured the group ranging freely across its history and the folk landscape, including two songs associated variously with the Weavers and Leadbelly ("Wimoweh" and "Goodnight Irene"), a trio of Bob Dylan songs ("One Too Many Mornings," "Mama, You Been on My Mind," and "Tomorrow Is a Long Time"), and a Donovan song ("Colours"), and traveling back through their own history ("Tom Dooley," etc.) and giving their best Decca single ("I'm Going Home") a fresh airing. If there is a flaw here -- apart from the momentary appearance of the Sahara Tahoe Hotel orchestra on the introduction sequences on each platter -- it is the result of a desire not to repeat too much material off of the group's earlier concert albums, so that some songs, such as "Pullin' Away," are not present here. In compensation, listeners get a real live version of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," which was represented on the College Concert album by a studio version with dubbed-on applause; their best piece of released topical humor, "Getaway John"; and "Ballad of the Shape of Things." The latter leads into the best version of "Greenback Dollar" ever issued by the threesome in any incarnation, and they're able to slide from that into a nicely wry intro to "Mama, You Been on My Mind" (as "Babe, You Been on My Mind") -- actually, their versions of Dylan songs here are a major breakthrough for a group that kept his music at arm's length (or further) for years, and show just how much further the trio could have gotten. In any case, the resulting 72-minute album runs circles around their last live album for Capitol (Back in Town), as well as most of their late Capitol work and a lot of their Decca sides, and it's worth tracking down.
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