As sharp, insightful, and progressive in his seventies as he was in the heyday of pop-folk, the "Paul" in Peter, Paul and Mary celebrates the 50th anniversary of his legendary trio's debut with a glorious and heartfelt 15-track set as dedicated to infectious and beautiful melodies as it is to continuing his legacy of hard-hitting social consciousness-raising. Stookey, in step with these digital times, paved the way for the full-length with a strategic rollout of these songs on three stand-alone EPs throughout the summer of 2012. Fifty years of reality in America could have squashed his youthful idealism, but the gritty, bluesy opening track, "Love Rules!," shows he's still an idealist -- or at least still embraces the truth that we still need this as our foundation if there is to be any hope. He also ponders the glorious mysteries of the universe and eternity, putting the troubles of the day in perspective against a lilting melody in "The Big Picture." But Stookey's not all sweetness and light. Going deeper into today's sociopolitical scene, the singer employs a stark, hypnotic acoustic guitar line behind poetry as he explains "The Connection" between the Afghani drug trade and junkies on an American street. He also reaches back into some darker recent world history, but with a hopeful twist, on "Jean Claude," a wistful story-song about a Frenchman who survived the Holocaust. Taking liberties with a sacred American cow, he creates some crafty, thought-provoking new verses for his lush arrangement of "America the Beautiful" that call for enduring liberty and justice in the "nation of the immigrant." Complementing all the original material (including the dreamy roots-folk instrumental "Pony") is a tender take on Sting's "Every Breath You Take" that reminds us, almost 30 years after it was a hit, that it's a song about loss and heartbreak. Half a century on, it's wonderful to see Stookey doing his best to keep hammerin' out love between the brothers and the sisters.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran