Peter Yarrow, Noel “Paul” Stookey, and Mary Travers, as Peter, Paul and Mary, were there on the ground floor of the 1960s commercial folk revival with songs like their version of Dylan's then-largely unknown “Blowin’ in the Wind” and the simple yet slyly enigmatic singalong “Puff the Magic Dragon.” This was folk dressed up to shine on the radio, and it did. Through it all, and even after the folk boom had faded, Peter, Paul and Mary essentially kept their act the same, and aside from a brief respite in the '70s, they performed and recorded regularly until Travers’ death in 2009, adding in new signature songs each era -- the trio’s powerful rendition of Thea Hopkins’ stark and harrowing “Jesus on the Wire” from 2004 comes immediately to mind in that regard. This set, intended by Yarrow and Stookey as a tribute to Travers, is the last page in the long history of this iconic trio. Taking live recordings of the group at various concerts in the '80s and '90s, Yarrow and Stookey added symphonic arrangements done by longtime friend and collaborator Robert DeCormier, and recorded with the Czech National Sympony Orchestra in Prague shortly after Travers’ death. The result isn’t particularly startling, since Peter, Paul and Mary had used DeCormier’s symphonic touch on releases throughout their career, but there is a compelling mixture of honest sadness and joy at work here, especially on a bouncy and expansive version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” a lovely and solemn “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” a wonderfully illuminated and cinematic “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and Hopkins’ “Jesus on a Wire,” which makes for cinema of a whole different sort. Frequently, though, the orchestrations wear out their welcome quickly, and while sweet and pretty, they detract from the intimacy through simplicity feel that songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” require to be truly effective. All in all, it’s great to hear these three harmonizing together one last time, though, and if the orchestrations aren’t always necessary, it’s still a testament to the chemistry between the three of them as singers and performers. The Prague Sessions feels like a stately goodbye, made memorable because that is exactly what it is -- a goodbye.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
feat: New York Choral Society