The third in this series of Smithsonian Folkways' American Favorite Ballads is not a straight re-release of the original American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 3 LP from the '50s, but it is part of a newer five-disc series incorporating not only Pete Seeger's American Favorite Ballads albums, but also tracks from similar Seeger projects from that era like his American Ballads and Frontier Ballads albums. Regardless of where the source material came from, the resulting CD is a work of its own. Containing 27 of the story-songs that have become best known in coffeehouses and nurseries across the English-speaking world, the album presents the tracks in a stark, bare-bones manner with Seeger's warm, cradling voice in the forefront, usually accompanied by his banjo or guitar, but occasionally completely a cappella. Familiar tunes like "Gypsy Davy," "Boll Weevil," "The Titanic," and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" are all represented, as is a previously unreleased version of "El-A-Noy" and a hilarious rendition of "Arkansas Traveler" that plays more like a vaudeville act ("I say Farmer, can you tell me where this road goes to?"/"Well, it ain't moved since I been here"). As the American Favorite Ballads series continues, the listener's familiarity with the songs may diminish a bit, but the little gems that poke up through the topsoil are well worth unearthing. Seeger's passion for keeping the folk tradition alive never gets too academic, and his genuine love of passing these songs on to new generations is infectious. For the liner notes alone, this series is a must-own for parents, historians, and fans of folk music.
AllMusic Review by Zac Johnson