Even though it took Stan Freberg three-and-a-half decades, he successfully updated the irreverent and historically challenged masterpiece Presents the United States of America, Vol. 1: The Early Years (1961). With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Freberg and his all-star company take on some of the greatest tales and incidents from the annals of U.S. history. The luminous cast boasts players from Freberg's hit novelty 45s and his short-lived, self-titled weekly radio series, such as Peter Leeds and June Foray, alongside the equally lauded voice-over talents of Jesse White and Paul Frees, and the musical director Billy May. The troupe reenact behind-the-scenes incidents beginning (appropriately enough) at the beginning with "Columbus Discovers America," which includes the song "It's a Round, Round World." With Frees as narrator, the story then moves forward to the "Pilgrim's Progress" where Mayor Pennypacker (Freberg) starts a goodwill campaign and invites everyone to "Take an Indian to Lunch." Other brilliant satires deal with the "Declaration of Independence" where listeners will find the melodious message "A Man Can't Be Too Careful What He Signs These Days" -- which still remains a bit of sensible advice, and keen-eared fans of Freberg will recognize that "Yankee Doodle Go Home" contains nods to his reworkings of "Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Banana Boat (Day-O)." Although the idea of a second volume had been kicked around, in typical Freberg fashion, he created and produced "The Middle Years" when he got around to. Of course the passage of time presented a few challenges in regards to continuity. But ever the ingenious entrepreneur, Freberg assembled another top-shelf company with original participants Leeds, Foray, White and May flanking the likes of Tyne Daly, John Goodman, David Ogden Stiers, Sherman Helmsley, Harry Shearer, Lorenzo Music and Freberg's children Donovan Freberg and Donna Freberg Ebsen. They pick up the story with the surreal concept of the founding fathers as an ad agency trying to 'sell' the idea of America, as heard on the three installments of "Madison, Jefferson, Franklin & Osbourne." Equally inspired is the elder Freberg's transformation into the role of "Star-Spangled Banner" author Francis Scott Key on "Rumplemyer's Shoes: The Francis Scott Key Story." Similarly exceptional is his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in "Abe Lincoln in Analysis" -- featuring the number "Show Folk" -- and the slice-of-life "Abe Lincoln at Home in the White House" with Daly, Helmsley and Foray. "The Middle Years" concludes in the wake of World War I with "Two Tin Pan Alley Songwriters" -- Freberg and Goodman -- coming up with the new patriotic selections "Hello, Peace, Hello" and a reprise of "There'll Never Be Another War," a tune introduced after the Civil War era "Appomattox Courthouse Bar & Grill" sketch.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer
Track Listing - Disc 1