The Johnstons alternated between strictly traditional albums and outings containing some contemporary material and pop-influenced arrangements on their late-1960s LPs. This single-disc reissue pairs their two traditional folk albums of the era, 1968's The Johnstons and 1969's The Barley Corn. Their self-titled debut is all traditional folk, and as such will be favored by those listeners who favor that style above folk-rock (even of the very mild sort, as the Johnstons played when they did material of more modern origin). The Johnstons is a very versatile selection of twelve tunes, from rousing singalongs like "They'll Never Get Their Man" and "The Lark in the Morning" to the a cappella cover of Ewan MacColl's "The Tunnel Tigers" to the instrumental "O'Carolan's Concerto," which has highly skilled interweaving guitar work by Mick Moloney and Paul Brady. And, naturally, there are a bit of jigs and reels as well. The best numbers are those that stretch out a little bit with more individuality to the interpretation: "The Dublin Jack of All Trades" has an almost country-and-western-like skip, and "'Fhir a' Bhata" is an exceptionally haunting Scottish Gaelic song. The Barley Corn was similar to The Johnstons in its accomplished mix of a wide variety of Irish material, played and sung with passion, though not in that much of a groundbreaking manner. Certainly the highlight is "Ye Jacobites By Name," an anti-Jacobite song with an arresting minor-keyed melody and fine thick harmonies. Occasionally they take a break from the fully-arranged ballads for instrumentals and a cappella outings; "What Put the Blood?" has some outstanding unaccompanied harmonies. It's all sung in English save the closing "Fuigfidh Mise 'n Baile Seo," which is one of the more impressive and tuneful numbers. Note that while this reissue lists 24 songs on the sleeve, it actually plays 25 tracks, the missing one being an instrumental near the end of the running order of The Barley Corn.
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger