It must have seemed strange to some fans during the folk era (late '50s to the mid-'60s) that soulful singers like the Chambers Brothers could get by with using electric guitars even before Dylan brought one to Newport in 1965. Acoustic guitars, however, pretty much faded into the background when a powerful vocal group like the Chambers Brothers cut loose, and this was also true of any singer with a deep, resonate voice like Barbara Dane. The joining of Dane and the Chambers Brothers in 1966 as the revival was fading from sight was an inspired pairing. Dane's a gutsy vocalist, and the addition of a backing vocal group, keyboards, and tasteful guitar work ripens her presentation to a new fullness. This is immediately obvious on both the album's opener, "It Isn't Nice," and its follow-up, "You've Got to Reap What You Sow." Both songs are deeply anchored to the civil rights movement, and while a few references to current politicians date the material, the power of the music is undeniable. With Dane's voice pouring out of the left speaker and the soulful harmony of the Chambers Brothers pouring out of the right speaker, the music blends, builds, and finally expresses both spiritual breadth and depth. Listening to "You Can't Make It By Yourself," one hears how Dane's voice benefits from lots of cushioning, of how her compatriots allow her a safe place from which to launch her vocals. Certain pieces like "Pack Up Your Sorrows" work less well, mostly because the quick timing works against both artists' strengths. Overall, though, Barbara Dane & the Chambers Brothers is a wonderful album that surpasses its historical status by offering a lovely blend of good songs, spare arrangements, and superb singing.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.