In the liner notes of the Rooftop Singers' Best of the Vanguard Years, Dave Samuelson suggests that the group was unfairly overlooked during the revival. Although "Walk Right In" became a monster hit in 1963, the group lost momentum when the follow-up single, "Tom Cat," was banned on some radio stations (the lyrics were suggestive). Stranger still, the group's first two albums -- Walk Right In! and Good Time! -- garnered some critical praise but fell by the wayside. The Best of the Vanguard Years includes material from both of these albums by the original (and best) Rooftop Singers' line-up: Bill Svanoe, Lynne Taylor, and Erik Darling. This collection of 27 songs includes five previously unreleased tracks and easily backs up Samuelson's assertion. Even while recording a great deal of traditional material, as most revival bands did, the Rooftop Singers' concocted a spare sound with roots in the blues and jazz. Even on seeming oddities like "R.C. Frog" (aka "Frog Went a Courtin'") and "Working on the Railroad," Darling and Svanoe turn traditionalism on its head with groovy arrangements and a 12-string guitar. It doesn't hurt that the three singers' voices work so well together on songs like "Dip Your Fingers" and "Shoes." Part of the group's jazz influence had also been imported by Taylor, and it's a revelation to hear her add a touch of sex appeal to a throwaway like "Ha Ha Thisaway." Perhaps the Rooftop Singers' new hybrid -- a spare kind of jazzy blues -- was just too unlike anything else of its time to find its niche. It wasn't strictly traditional, meaning that folk purists wouldn't like it, and it wasn't crassly commercial, meaning they couldn't tour with the New Christy Minstrels. The Best of the Vanguard Years should help the Rooftop Singers find their place as one of the most innovative groups of the early-'60s folk revival.
Best of the Vanguard Years Review
by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.