Except for some early recordings made for tiny folk labels in the late '40s and a final reunion disc in 1981, the Weavers were aligned with two record companies during their career, the major label Decca, 1950-1953, and the large independent Vanguard, 1957-1965 (with the actual recordings being made between 1955 and 1963). This 87-track, four-hour, four-CD box set largely concerns itself with the Vanguard period, although the first eight tracks were licensed from MCA, Decca's successor. Not counting earlier compilations, the Weavers released eight LPs on Vanguard: The Weavers at Carnegie Hall (recorded December 24, 1955; released in April 1957); The Weavers on Tour (another live collection, released later in 1957); The Weavers at Home (August 1958); Travelling on with the Weavers (May 14, 1959); The Weavers at Carnegie Hall, Vol. 2 (recorded April 1, 1960; released in late 1960); The Weavers' Almanac (1962); Reunion at Carnegie Hall (recorded May 2 and 3, 1963; released later in 1963); and Reunion at Carnegie Hall, Pt. 2 (recorded May 2 and 3, 1963; released in 1965). Over the course of this period, singer/banjo player Pete Seeger was replaced by Erik Darling; Darling appeared on five tracks of The Weavers at Home, while Seeger appeared on only five of Travelling on with the Weavers, and Darling had taken over completely by The Weavers at Carnegie Hall, Vol. 2. As their titles suggest, Seeger temporarily rejoined for the two Reunion albums, along with Darling and his replacements, Frank Hamilton and Bernie Krause.
Producer Mary Katherine Aldin has adopted an odd approach to selecting and sequencing tracks for the box set. She begins reasonably enough with the eight Decca tracks (which are among the group's most popular), following with most of the contents of the first Vanguard LP, The Weavers at Carnegie Hall. Then things get strange. At the end of the box set's first disc (which is subtitled "The Early Years"), she skips over The Weavers on Tour and The Weavers at Home and begins what continues onto the second disc (called "This Land Is Your Land"), most of the contents of the fourth album, Travelling on with the Weavers. Halfway through the disc, she doubles back and presents most of The Weavers at Home. At the end of the second disc, she jumps to The Weavers' Almanac, which takes up the first half of the third disc (redundantly called "Wasn't That a Time"), and for the second half she goes backward again for selections from The Weavers at Carnegie Hall, Vol. 2. The fourth disc, "Reunion," is drawn from the two Reunion albums. This bizarre arrangement scrambles any sense of whether Seeger or Darling is in the group at any given moment. For the record, the first disc -- tracks one through 21 -- is all Seeger except for the last track, "Twelve Gates to the City," which features Darling. On the second disc -- tracks 22-42 -- the songs "The Keeper," "Erie Canal," "Greenland Whale Fisheries," "Tina," "Old Riley (In Dem Long Hot Summer Days)," "Almost Done," and "Po' Howard (Howard's Dead and Gone)" come from the Seeger era; the rest date from Darling's tenure. The third disc -- tracks 43-65 -- is all Darling with the exception of the song "Wasn't That a Time," which is stuck in the middle of the tracks from The Weavers' Almanac, and features two previously unreleased tracks, "Que Bonita Bandera" and "Recordando Que Mañana (Remembering Tomorrow)." The selection leaves out all of The Weavers on Tour (except "Wasn't That a Time"), perhaps because Vanguard has reissued that album on CD separately.
The annotations make things even more confusing, since tracks are said to come from later compilations instead of the albums on which they originated, and dates and personnel lists are often wrong. The set contains a 48-page booklet featuring an oral history of the Weavers in which Aldin has edited together interviews with Seeger; Darling; Hamilton; original members Fred Hellerman and Ronnie Gilbert; and Harold Leventhal, the Weavers' manager. (Lee Hays, the fourth original member, died in 1981. His perspective goes unrepresented, although the others talk about him, often disparagingly.) Aldin warns that "Their answers were often contradictory, their memories at variance with one another...." Actually, it's worse than that. On occasion, they make statements that are simply incorrect. For example, Hellerman claims that the first session the Weavers did at Decca was for a Christmas album, a faulty recollection that session records refute. This was a lazy way to tell the Weavers' story, and the mistakes, when added to the other factual errors in the annotations, make the album's documentation generally unreliable. Since the track selection and sequencing are also questionable, in sum this box set is a flawed chronicle of the Weavers' career, even if it does contain the bulk of the recordings they made for Vanguard and their early hits for Decca.