The expressive talents of Joni James once again defy genre as she adds her own unique interpretation to a dozen American traditional songs and stories. The early-'60s folk music revolution became a fortuitous backdrop for James on Sings Folk Songs (1961). In order to truly authenticate her readings, she traveled to Music City U.S.A. [aka Nashville TN], incorporating local talent and recording the album within the hallowed halls of the Owen Bradley Studios. Her instincts to trace the rich heritage of the music paid off by producing one of the most enduring works in the vocalist's voluminous catalog. With the exception of "Blue Eyes" -- which was composed by her then-husband and musical director Anthony Acquaviva -- James' utilizes her quaint and agile charm to illuminate these Americana standards. The reworkings of "The Riddle Song," "Down In The Valley," "Scarlet Ribbons," "Black Is The Colour Of My True Love's Hair," "I Know Where I'm Goin'," as well as James' fourth distinct version of "Danny Boy" are given reserved and subtle considerations. These sit comfortably beside the homey readings of "I Lost My True Love" aka "On Top Of Old Smokey," the bluesy "Love Oh Love" -- which is also notable for the lazy and laid-back electric guitar accompaniment -- and even the groovy "Go Away." Although it is an original composition, the aforementioned "Blue Eyes" is an appropriate inclusion, as it complements the spirit and balladry of the great American folk song. In 2003 the Collectors' Choice Music label paired up Sings Folk Songs with Italianissime! (1964), James' second long-player of traditional Italian sides for a double-play CD as part of their restoration of the vocalists original MGM catalog.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer