The New Christy Minstrels

Recycled: What's Old Is New!

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This CD is a complete and gloriously wonderful anomaly. In 2007, the New Christy Minstrels -- yes, that well-scrubbed, upbeat group from the early '60s -- under the direction of their founder Randy Sparks, featuring Jackie Miller Davidson, Clarence Treat, Becky Jo Benson, Art Podell, Barry McGuire, and Dolan Ellis (names associated with the group from lots of decades past) recorded what is easily the best album of their history. There's not a song here from their classic repertory that doesn't come off better than the originals: "Ramblin'," "Today," "The Drinkin' Gourd," "This Land Is Your Land," "Mighty Mississippi," and "Saturday Night" all transcend their original incarnations. In that regard, the whole album is a revelation -- the Christys' appeal in their own time was perceived (and dismissed, in some circles), in part, to reside in their youth; this CD proves that it's possible for experience to not only substitute for, but supplant youthful impetuousness, and to great effect. Among the new material here, "The Evolution of Green Green," gives Randy Sparks et al a chance to demonstrate what might have happened to the song "Green Green," and how it got to be a number three hit -- and it culminates with a rendition of "Green Green" that is just another highlight here. We also get a new rendition McGuire's solo hit "Eve of Destruction" (authored by P.F. Sloan), which seems less contrived and more relevant in 2010 than it did in 1965, when it was reviled by the protest song movement that it seemed to parody. And then there's "Just Americans," the "new" part of "What's Old Is New" on this album, and its most questionable moment, an effort at making a post-9/11 statement. The Christys avoided political or topical statements in their early-'60s work, and it's difficult to say, based on this song, if breaking that rule was a good idea here. One only wishes that the world or the feelings of people had been that simple and straightforward in the wake of the September 11 attacks (and that some public figures hadn't tried to take advantage of those feelings, and turn them into a political weapon). The performance is sincere, and one can give Sparks and company points for trying to graft pre-Kennedy sentiments onto a post-Bush reality, and let the song get debated. More successful are some looks back at the members' musical pasts and the group's history -- "Julianne" as a haunting look at the roots of Sparks' and McGuire's folk singing, and "Last Farewell" is a very moving tribute to late member Nick Woods, which closes the album on bittersweet and beautiful note.