Time-Life Music's The Folk Years: Simple Song of Freedom is the concluding album in a four-volume set that surveys the 1960s folk revival in a manner typical of the Time-Life approach to compilations generally. That is to say that the selections consist mostly of hit singles; of the 30 tracks spread across two discs here, 20 were singles that made the Billboard Hot 100 between 1959 and 1970, and 14 were Top 40 hits. That's a smaller percentage than was the case on the first three volumes in the series, but several of the tracks here that were not hit singles themselves are versions of songs that were hits for others, such as "Leaving on a Jet Plane," performed by the Mitchell Trio featuring its songwriter, John Denver, and Kris Kristofferson's version of his composition "Me and Bobby McGee." The selections are sequenced in no particular order, and the compilers have been liberal in what they chose to include, stretching the definition of folk to include pop groups like the Cyrkle ("Red Rubber Ball") and country singers like Roger Miller ("England Swings"). Characteristic of the series, commercial folk acts of the late '50s and early '60s such as the Kingston Trio ("Greenback Dollar," "M.T.A.") and Harry Belafonte ("The Midnight Special") rub shoulders with folk-influenced pop/rock performers of the mid- and late '60s such as the Band ("Long Black Veil") and the Byrds ("The Times They Are a-Changin'"). This is not a scholarly album that attempts to give a sense of the history of the folk movement, but it does contain several significant songs of that movement, including some hits, and performances by some of the major artists, so it should appeal to music fans of a certain age who heard this material on the radio when they were young.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2