Various Artists

Washington Square Memoirs: The Great Urban Folk Boom, 1950-1970

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This impressive three-CD, 72-song set is the best compilation of music from the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. It concentrates most heavily on the movement's apogee in the first half of the 1960s, but also touches upon its roots in mid-20th century performers like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, Big Bill Broonzy, and Josh White. Although its evolution into folk-rock is documented lightly, the box encompasses that as well, with cuts by the likes of Judy Collins, Tim Buckley, Tom Rush, Fred Neil, Eric Andersen, Tim Hardin, and Richard & Mimi Fariña. In between are the giants of the early-'60s folk boom, such as Joan Baez, Peter, Paul & Mary, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Odetta, and Ian & Sylvia. And, unlike many a folk compilation, this is open-minded enough to include material by some of the more commercially oriented folk acts that helped popularize the style on a mass level, like the Kingston Trio, the Rooftop Singers (with their number one single "Walk Right In"), the Limeliters, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and Randy Sparks. Indeed, virtually every major North American performer of the style is represented, even the hard-to-license Bob Dylan (though Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, and James Taylor are not included due to licensing restrictions). Although the cuts by major figures are well selected, there are also numerous offerings by minor but notable contributors to the form, like the Journeymen (with future Mamas & the Papas leader John Phillips), Carolyn Hester, David Blue, and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Some of the rare or little-remembered cuts are highlights of the collection, like Sam Hinton's witty 1950 single "Old Man Atom (Talking Atomic Blues)"; Jean Ritchie's 1954 recording of "Nottamun Town"; Peggy Seeger's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (later a huge hit for Roberta Flack); Barry & Barry's "Another Man" (one of the Barrys being a pre-rock Barry McGuire); Judy Henske's seminal "High Flying Bird"; Judy Roderick's little-known 1964 electric folk-rock-blues treatment of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"; Jesse Colin Young's pre-Youngbloods solo work "Four in the Morning"; Bonnie Dobson's original version of the folk and folk-rock standard "Morning Dew"; and even a young John Denver's 1966 cover of Pete Seeger's "Bells of Rhymney." The package is enhanced by lengthy liner notes, including extensive comments by Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman.

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