Burl Ives

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

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Burl Ives had a multifaceted career from the late '30s until the late '70s as a folk balladeer, actor, folklorist, anthologist, author, and broadcaster, and his restrained, grandfatherly croon was perfect for taking the rough edges off ragged folk melodies and reintroducing them to the public, much as Bradley Kincaid had done in the era before him. Ives' voice always seemed to have a wink and a smile in it, and if his folk versions seem to fall to the quaint side of things, they were undeniably comfortable as an old shirt, easy to wear and free of subliminal politics. This collection gathers eight of the 12 sides he recorded for OKeh in the early '40s, as well as tracks from the Asch and Decca labels, including his signature tune, "Poor Wayfaring Stranger," which was a smoothing out of an 1830s religious folk tune; his 1947 hit with the Andrews Sisters, "Blue Tail Fly"; and an atmospheric version of "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky," which hit number 21 on the pop charts in 1949 and prefigured most of the later versions by other artists. Nothing here is startling or controversial, as Ives continually strove to present folk music in the simplest light without ruffling feathers, making him the perfect counterpoint to a performer like Pete Seeger, who grafted folk music to a more political agenda. In the end, though, Ives and Seeger really were working the same mine, and while their purposes may have differed, they now seem like two sides of the proverbial coin, more alike than not.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:04
2 1:12
3 2:24
4 1:26
5 1:28
6 2:39
7 2:11
8 1:28
9 1:37
10 2:29
11 1:38
12 1:33
13 3:11
14 1:16
15 0:46
16 1:15
17 1:10
18 2:16
19 1:45
20 1:15
21 2:42
22 3:21
23 3:20
24 2:11
25 3:12
26 2:35
27 2:49
28 1:19
29 1:13
30 2:27
31 1:17
32 1:41
33 1:12
34 1:22
35 2:46
36 2:43
blue highlight denotes track pick