Various Artists

The Folk Years [Box Set]

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Time-Life's The Folk Years is a massive survey of folk, pop-folk, and folk-rock from the 1950s and 1960s spread out over eight discs. At 15 songs per CD -- equaling 120 total -- this chronicle offers a healthy sampling of popular folk music covering dozens of known and forgotten singers and bands. The emphasis of the collection is on popular folk and popular music influenced by folk, meaning that most of the songs here charted. This emphasis also gives The Folk Years a broader appeal than the average folk revival compilation, making it as fun as it is educational. A number of obvious hits have been included. Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song (Day-O)" helped build an interest for simple ethnic music in the mid-'50s, whereas the Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley" kicked off the "folk boom" in the summer of 1958. There are early Byrds' hits ("Turn, Turn, Turn" and "Mr. Tambourine Man") and several favorites by the Mamas & the Papas ("Monday, Monday," "California Dreamin'," and "Creeque Alley"). There's also quite a bit of pop-folk like Judy Collins' version of "Both Sides Now" and Sonny & Cher's "Baby Don't Go." The true fun of The Folk Years comes with the insertion of a slew of odds and ends from the era, some of which haven't usually been categorized as folk. Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" may sound hopelessly dated, but in a fun way that reminds the listener of how earnest folkies could be. The Chad Mitchell Trio offers an early take on "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," later to become a big hit for Roberta Flack. Roger Miller's "King of the Road" and Glen Campbell's version of "Gentle on My Mind" may or may not qualify as folk, but they both sound like folk in this context. The same is true for a number of story-songs like Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" and Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles." As with any collection, some listeners will wonder why only one Dylan performance was included, or why certain artists (Odetta, Tom Rush) were excluded. These, however, are quibbles. The Folk Years sets out to cover popular folk music from the '50s and '60s, and does a remarkable job doing just that. It's a lot like listening to an oldies station that refuses to play anything but folk and folk-influenced material, providing audiences who remember the music a healthy dose of nostalgia, and those too young to remember a thorough introduction.

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