The New Christy Minstrels

Tall Tales! Legends and Nonsense

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By the time that the acoustic folk collective known as the New Christy Minstrels released their third long-player, Tall Tales! Legends and Nonsense (1963), the band had been together under the direction of Randy Sparks in several different configurations for less than a year. During that time, however, they had established themselves as a formidable aggregate of collective musicianship. Their multi-faceted talents were likewise prominently featured during the first season of the highly rated weekly network musical/variety Andy Williams Show. Their slightly offbeat brand of innocuous and infectious folky fun is at the heart of this release. Their revolving-door policy again resulted in another slight personnel alteration as Gayle Caldwell (soprano vocal/percussion) replaced Peggy Connelly. The combo was garnering continued successes as a stage act, selling out venerable venues such as Carnegie Hall in addition to recording -- all during their downtime from the TV show. A major motif weaving together the 11 cuts on Tall Tales! Legends and Nonsense is the truly American oral tradition of storytelling. At the core of the NCM's unique performance style and delivery is Sparks. He was continually able to create masterful reworkings and arrangements of tracks as disparate as "Song of the Pious Itinerant" -- better-known as Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's composition "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum," made famous by Al Jolson -- or "The Old Timer," which is based on Oscar Brand's "I Was Born 100,000 Years Ago." His reinvention of "The Cat Came Back" -- which is simply titled "The Cat" here -- is undoubtedly inspired by Cisco Houston's Folkways recording a decade earlier. The Irish-flavored "Down to Derby" as well as the hauntingly dark, yet beautiful ballad "In the Hills of Shiloh" -- the latter of which was penned by Shel Silverstein -- are perfect vehicles for Art Podell's contrasting supple tenor voice. Another of the more emotive performances on the album is from the duo of Sparks and his ex-wife and concurrent collaborator on the unrequited love ballad "Jimmy Grove and Barbara Ellen." The pair has a definite synergy as the call-and-response lyrics play off of each other's sense of timing.

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