Peter, Paul and Mary

In These Times

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For their first new album since 1995's Lifelines, veteran folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary haven't changed things around much. Although their voices are a little less angelic (at least in the normal sense), the quavering, breathy vocals carry a kind of earned wisdom that they could only hint at 40 years ago, and it makes the group's delivery of these songs all the more intimate and effective. In These Times has the usual traditional material, including a hard-charging version of "Wayfaring Stranger," a Pete Seeger song (the elegant "Oh, Had I a Golden Thread"), and the group's usual endorsement of new, young songwriters working in the folk vein. The obvious highlight this time around is a song by Boston-based songwriter Thea Hopkins, "Jesus Is on the Wire," which tells the chilling story of the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. With sparse, jagged, and highly cinematic lyrics, the song builds the same kind of quiet horror as Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," and its matter-of-fact tone, even on the powerful chorus, makes "Jesus Is on the Wire" absolutely unforgettable. In These Times is valuable for that song alone, but fans of Peter, Paul & Mary won't be disappointed in the rest of the tracks here, either. The trio has aged well, and they've done it by not changing much of anything, making this album both reassuring and refreshing.

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