Peter, Paul and Mary

At Newport 1963-1965

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In the wake of a new interest in folk music sparked by the success of the Kingston Trio, the Newport Folk Festival was launched in 1959, and it soon became a combination coming-out party and annual gathering of the tribes for folk and blues artists of all stripes. After the release of their first album in 1962, Peter, Paul and Mary effectively supplanted the Kingston Trio as the user-friendly face of the new folk community, as the lively Greenwich Village scene caught the public's fancy. There was a particular resonance to Peter, Paul and Mary's 1963 appearance at Newport, as they were both the biggest stars in folk, having broken through to massive mainstream popularity, and also the singers who had helped popularize a number of rising songwriters, most notably Bob Dylan, who would redefine the notion of folk musically and culturally. PP&M were also on the Newport bill in 1965, the year Dylan plugged in his electric guitar and unwittingly signaled the end of folk's time as a voice for conscious youth. PP&M's 1963 and 1965 appearances at Newport were recorded and filmed, and At Newport 1963-1965 pulls together highlights from their performances. It's an entertaining and compelling set that also captures them at a specific time and place; here they were at their peak, with nowhere to go but down. If the sheer earnestness of Peter, Paul and Mary's performing style seems a bit quaint several decades after the fact, it was also a genuine reflection of the tenor of the times, as well as the sense of political and social importance that was so much a part of the salad days of '60s folk. It wouldn't be long before much of America became too cynical to accept songs like "If I Had a Hammer" and "Because All Men Are Brothers" at face value, but the courage and vigor of this music is a reminder of a time before the '60s turned bitter, and the conviction that informs this music is a genuinely remarkable thing. Even more importantly, this album is a vivid reminder of why Peter, Paul and Mary enjoyed such enduring popularity -- they were excellent at what they did. Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers were all fine lead vocalists, and together they were a superb ensemble, with marvelous harmonies and faultless instincts about where and how to weave their voices together. While these recordings were clearly cut live, with occasional technical flubs to remind us, PP&M's vocals practically never falter and their singing has lost little of its luster even if their style has fallen out of fashion. At Newport 1963-1965 is valuable as a musical snapshot of a very different time in American history, but it's the simple, unadorned beauty of Peter, Paul and Mary's voices that makes this worth coming back to.

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