When the Weavers (Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman) first hit the pop charts in 1950, they brought with them a fairly radical concept: the notion that music was more than just entertainment but could be used effectively as a force for social change, and it is both ironic and a bit miraculous that the decidedly left-leaning Weavers enjoyed their greatest commercial success just as the Cold War and all its attendant paranoia was reaching full steam. Part of the credit for that commercial success has to go to arranger Gordon Jenkins, who realized that a mellow folk group with a political agenda needed something extra to get the public's attention. Jenkins convinced Decca Records to release Weavers tracks augmented by horns and orchestration, and almost overnight the group went from being a political folk quartet to being a pop phenomenon. From 1950 to '52 the Weavers placed several songs in the Top 40 (including "Goodnight, Irene," which hit number one in 1950), but the delicate balance between being a commercial force and simultaneously being a political one was never going to last, and it didn't. By 1955 the Weavers had more or less officially disbanded, although they reunited often for concerts, including a show in 1957 at Carnegie Hall which Vanguard Records recorded and released as The Weavers at Carnegie Hall, and still probably the best introduction to this elegant singing group. Wasn't That a Time? collects the best of the Weavers Decca-era tracks, including "So Long, It's Been Good to Know Yuh," which managed to put a Woody Guthrie song in the Top Ten (number four in 1950), the first commercial recording of the Bahamian maritime lament "The Wreck of the Sloop John B," a version of "Follow the Drinking Gourd," which outlines the song's connection to the Underground Railroad, the soothing yet haunting "Bring Me Li'l Water, Sylvie," and a pair of charting songs drawn from Leadbelly's vast traditional repertoire, "The Midnight Special" and the beautiful waltz "Goodnight, Irene." The Weavers' later Vanguard recordings probably best present the group's musical philosophy, but these Decca tracks are the ones that caught a nation's ear as the Cold War beckoned.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
feat: Vic Schoen