Everybody's kindly uncle, Burl Ives had a multifaceted career from the late '30s until the late '70s as a folk balladeer, actor, folklorist, anthologist, author, and broadcaster, 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 avuncular 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 (even though Ives was an ardent activist). This collection gathers some 30-plus sides, all featuring Ives' comfortable, easy approach, an approach that make these songs seem as familiar as an old family friend coming to dinner. That easy, casual style was both Ives' strength and his weakness, because after three or four songs, it all begins to blend together in a leisurely flow, and some of the wild, ragged edges of these folk songs are unfortunately washed away by Ives' smoothness. Still, songs like "Blue Tail Fly," his 1947 hit with the Andrews Sisters, were rescued from a lonely fate of being cited only in academic folk journals by his popularity, even if the sly and veiled stabs at the plantation south in the song were bleached away by Ives' approach. 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 public 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.
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