Various Artists

America's Music Legacy: Folk

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Filmed in the early 1980s, the two-hour "folk" installment of the America's Music Legacy series offers a smorgasbord of brief performances by artists who have generally been classified as "folk," though the styles range from the traditional to the most commercial edge of the spectrum. The effect is somewhat like watching one of those PBS specials of subsequent decades that gather veterans of a certain genre on-stage for another hurrah, except that the veterans are younger here, and the presentation and production values glossier. Hosted by Theo Bikel, a few extremely brief interview segments and very short vintage film clips are interspersed here and there, but it's largely given over to the artists doing their thing. Some of them, it's fair to say, will not be present (to the pleasure of those who like their folk rootsy), and when Glenn Yarbrough leads off with a slick version of "Molly," some viewers could be forgiven for wondering whether they've put in the right disc. But for those who like their folk in the purer vein, there are decent performances that avoid over-production, like Buffy Saint-Marie's "Cripple Creek"; Jean Ritchie's dulcimer-and-voice tunes; and Doc Watson's pair of songs (recorded not long before his death), including accompaniment from his son Merle. The Limeliters and, more particularly, the New Christy Minstrels (most of whose personnel seems way too youthful to have any connection with any of the lineups that had hits in the '60s) are more reminders that some music marketed as "folk" in the folk revival was fairly show-bizzy; Bikel's own odd versions of Phil Ochs' "Power and the Glory" and (yes) Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" will not stand out as highlights. But again, some more down-to-earth sets compensate, Hoyt Axton having the wisdom to just play along with two guitars for "Greenback Dollar." Some of the other better moments include Dave Van Ronk's comic rendition of his amusing New Jersey road map "Garden State Stomp," and John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band going it solo (and pretty traditional) for "Old Man from Missouri." By and large, this doesn't present these performers at their peaks, but it has its good points, though few viewers will have tastes broad enough to enjoy every artist.