Washington Square Memoirs: The Great Urban Folk Boom, 1950-1970
Rhino Records R274264
- Hard Travelin' - Woody Guthrie
- Old Man Atom (Talking Atomic Blues) - Sam Hinton
- Black, Brown And White - Big Bill Broonzy
- Nottamun Town - Jean Ritchie
- Darlin' Cory - Ed McCurdy
- One Meat Ball - Josh White
- Little Boxes - Malvina Reynolds
- I Was Born 10,000 Years Ago - Oscar Brand
- Midnight Special - Cisco Houston
- Wasn't That A Time - The Weavers
- Spanish Is A Loving Tongue - Glenn Yarbrough
- Swannanonoa Tunnel - Erik Darling
- Sportin' Life - Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee
- South Coast - Randy Sparks
- Molly Dee - The Kingston Trio
- I've Been Driving On Bald Mountain/Water Boy (live) - Odetta
- Raspberries, Strawberries - Bud & Travis
- The Hammer Song (live) - Pete Seeger
- Chase The Rising Son - The Journeymen
- Don't Let Your Deal Go Down - The New Lost City Ramblers
- Betty And Dupree (live) - Bob Gibson & Bob Camp
- Coplas De Amor - Cynthia Gooding
- San Francisco Bay Blues - Ramblin' Jack Elliott
- The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face - Peggy Seeger
- Greenback Dollar - Hoyt Axton
- Swing And Turn Jubilee - Carolyn Hester
- Another Man - Barry & Barry
- Walk Right In - The Rooftop Singers
- He Was A Friend Of Mine - Dave Van Ronk
- Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream 0 The Chad Mitchell Trio
- Nora's Dove (Dink's Song) - The Big Three
- 500 Miles - Hedy West
- Four Strong Winds - Ian & Sylvia
- I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound - Tom Paxton
- Blowin' In The Wind - Peter, Paul & Mary
- Fog Horn - Bob Gibson
- High Flying Bird - Judy Henske
- Boots Of Spanish Leather - Bob Dylan
- You'se A Viper - Dave Van Ronk & The Ragtime Jug Stompers
- Four In The Morning - Jesse Colin Young
- Euphoria - The Holy Modal Rounders
- There But For Fortune - Joan Baez
- Take Your Fingers Off It - The Even Dozen Jug Band
- Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? - Judy Roderick
- Tear Down The Walls - Martin & Neil
- Morning Dew (live) - Bonnie Dobson
- Jordan's River - The Modern Folk Quartet
- What's The Matter With The Mill - Koerner, Ray & Glover
- Cod'ine - Buffy Sainte-Marie
- Joshua Gone Barbados - Eric Von Schmidt
- Take A Whiff On Me - The Greenbriar Boys
- Get Together - Hamilton Camp
- The Wabash Cannonball (live) - The Limeliters
- I Ain't Marching Anymore - Phil Ochs
- Pack Up Your Sorrows - Richard & Mimi Farina
- Drop Down Mama - John Hammons
- Rag Mama - Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band
- Bells Of Rhymney - John Denver
- Early Morning Rain - Gordon Lightfoot
- Thirsty Boots - Eric Andersen
- Reason To Believe - Tim Hardin
- Just Like A Woman - Richie Havens
- Suzanne - Judy Collins
- The Dolphins - Fred Neil
- Wondrous Love - Kathy & Carol
- Once I Was - Tim Buckley
- The Circle Game - Tom Rush
- These 23 Days In Semptember - David Blue
- Candy Man - Taj Mahal
- Then Came The Children - Paul Siebel
- School Days - Loudon Wainwright III
- The Motorcycle Song (live) - Arlo Guthrie
I was asked recently to comment on this product from the viewpoint of a Cisco Houston fan. Most Cisco fans who have contacted this appreciation website seem to be between age 50 and 80. Since I am 65, I was 14 when the commercial folk revival hit the big time in l958. I became a fan immediately after the first time I heard "Tom Dooley" by the Kingston Trio. To me, that song started the whole urban folk thing, yet it is not on this collection. They have a song by the Kingston Trio, but it is just an ordinary album cut of no particular significance. That, to me, was the biggest mistake for this product.
Actually, looking back on the importance of recorded music in my life, I believe I can call myself a "folk fan" from the age of six, in 1950, the year this compilation claims as its starting point. I was able to put 78 rpm records on the family turntable by myself at that age, and I recall listening to "albums" by Burl Ives, Tex Ritter and Gene Autry. My favorite children's song by Burl was "The Little White Duck." By Tex, it was "Animal Fair." By Gene, of course it was "Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer." My parents did not own Woody Guthrie's songs for children, but to me, Burl, Tex and Gene were all "folk artists."
My father liked country and western music, and some classical, and the Richard Rodgers soundtrack to the TV series about the Navy in World War II, "Victory at Sea." My mother liked Broadway show cast albums such as "The King and I" and "Oklahoma" and "My Fair Lady." They both liked Slim Whitman, the yodeling tenor, and Les Paul and Mary Ford. My sister, ten years older than I, brought the records of Tony Bennett, Doris Day and Frank Sinatra into the home. My brother, five years my elder, dug early rock and roll (pre-Elvis) and country. So by the time 1958 came and opened my folk song awareness, I had experienced a wide variety of other forms of music. Some of it endures in my heart even today. Some was quite forgettable. So it is with the box set "Washington Square Memoirs."
Recall that the subtitle on this product claims it covers "1950-1970"? Tell me why, then, the set begins with a Woody Guthrie recording made in 1947? "Hard Travelin'" is a good song, and this is a good Woody performance, but if you are going to use tracks made in the Forties, go back to "Dust Bowl Ballads" by Woody in 1940. That's when the "modern" folk and singer/songwriter movements really began, in my view. Then the compilers could have followed up with the Almanac Singers, a short-lived group of socialists including Woody, Pete Seeger and Lee Hays on their records, and Cisco Houston in some of their unrecorded concerts. But no Almanacs here. And the one Cisco selection is "Midnight Special." He does a great job on a decent song, but to not have used one of Cisco's exceptional interpretations of Guthrie songs seems criminal to me.
I think the mountaintop for The Weavers, which evolved from the Almanacs, was in 1950 when they hit the pop charts with Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene." Why wasn't that on here? And keeping Pete Seeger in mind, the compilers use an early version of "If I Had a Hammer" to represent him, when "We Shall Overcome" from his Carnegie Hall concert LP in 1963 would have been so much more appropriate. "Hammer" is not a bad song, and was quite popular in other versions, but it lacks the emotional and historical significance of "We Shall Overcome."
The producers picked an Arlo Guthrie song to close the set, on the third and shortest (but most satisfying) CD, but they picked "The Motorcycle Song." That's cute, but they had the room, and most likely had the rights, to "Alice's Restaurant." Yes, I know it runs 18 minutes and since the military draft ended, has lost relevance. However, it came out four months after I was drafted for the Vietnam War in 1967, and I first heard it at Fort Bragg, N.C. I can testify under oath that his song brought many laughs to many reluctant soldiers, and bucked up our morale. Maybe it was too long, and too individualized to be sung at Washington Square Park in lower Manhattan, but gee whiz, Arlo was even a native New Yorker from Coney Island. How can you skip that one, and claim to cover the '60's in politics and music?
Ah, well. Compilations are damn frustrating. We, the buyers, seldom know just how many songs were available, and which ones, at what prices? Neither do we know the definition of what songs fit the theme of the product. Did the compilers really want songs they knew were performed and shared for free in the square on Sunday afternoons? I doubt that. They have songs here originally released on Columbia, Folkways, Elektra, Vanguard, Prestige Folklore and other labels. They have a note saying Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, James Taylor and Simon and Garfunkle do not appear "due to license restrictions." Yet James Taylor really came up big only at the tail end of the period covered in this compilation. He fits neither the traditionalists included here, nor the urban protest singer/writers. Why mention him at all?
What I like on Disc One, the weakest but longest of the three: Malvina Reynolds' singing her own composition, "Little Boxes" which Seeger had a rare 45 rpm single hit with on Columbia, which was also her label. (My mother liked this one a lot. It was one of the last songs she sang along with before she died in a car crash.) Odetta's version of "Bald Mountain" from the Harry Belafonte and Friends at Carnegie Hall double-LP was a good choice. Ramblin' Jack Elliott is often identified with San Francisco Bay Blues, so I can't complain too much, although I prefer his version of Guthrie's "1913 Massacre" if I have to pick one track to represent his pre-1970 career. As for Woody, the '50's were not kind to him, due to the progression of his fatal disease, Huntington's Chorea, but he did record some of his best children's songs early in that decade, and one of them here would have been a nice touch.
The following singers represented on Disc One deserve to be there, but for different songs than those chosen by these producers: Big Bill Broonzy, Jean Ritchie, Ed McCurdy, Josh White, Oscar Brand, Cisco, The Weavers, Glenn Yarbrough, Erik Darling, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. This next group, in my view, do not really deserve to be represented: Randy Sparks, The Journeymen, Bob Gibson/Bob Camp, Cynthia Gooding, Peggy Seeger, Hoyt Axton, Carolyn Hester, and Barry and Barry. I bought a lot of folk albums between '58 and '70, and I remember all of these artists except Barry and Barry, but I think they all were minor league players.
On Disc Two, I would discard the following performers: The Big Three, Bob Gipson, The Ragtime Jug Stompers, Jesse Colin Young, the Holy Modal Rounders, the Even Dozen Jug Band, Judy Broderick, Bonnie Dobson, The Modern Folk Quartet, Koener, Ray and Glover, and The Greenbrier Boys. All lesser lights in the world of folk, and skipping them would free up disc space for additional tracks by Dylan, Baez, Ochs, Houston, etc.
What I like on the second CD: The Rooftop Singers, Dave van Ronk, Chad Mitchell Trio, Hedy West, Ian and Sylvia, Peter, Paul and Mary, Judy Henske, Dylan, Baez, Martin and Neil, Buffy St. Marie and Hamilton Camp. I would have chosen different songs for six of those 12, but the tracks that made the album are not bad.
Disc Three is the shortest, but wouldn't be if the producers had put "Alice's Restaurant" on it. To me, this disc is the most satisfying, although it begins horribly with The Limeliters' version of "Wabash Cannonball." The song does not belong, and the treatment insults it. The Limeliters were one-third comedy, two-thirds music, and the mixture on this track fails on both counts. With track two, things improve a great deal. "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" is one of Phil Ochs's best songs and best performances. (He really was not much of a singer.) Then Richard and Mimi Farina (she was Joan Baez's sister. He was a novelist, who died young in a motorcycle wreck) do a great job on "Pack Up Your Sorrows." A surprise choice is John Denver singing "Bells of Rhymney" which was a concert staple of Pete Seeger's. He handles it quite well. Tracks by John Hammond and Jim Kweskin come next. I was not interested in them back in the day, nor am I enthralled now. Ah, but here comes Gordon Lightfoot with "Early Morning Rain" and Eric Anderson singing his own "Thirsty Boots" and Tim Hardin doing his own "Reason to Believe." Next we have Richie Havens, whose work I never fully embraced, performing a lovely version of Dylan's "Just Like a Woman." There are three other winning picks on the CD: Judy Collins doing Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" and Fred Neil singing "The Dolphins" and Tom Rush performing Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game."
Why no tracks by Leonard Cohen himself? Where are "Jim and Jean" who did Phil's songs better than Phil? Why no Peter LaFarge, who made NYC his home until his death in '65, and who was mentored by Cisco Houston? Why no Patrick Sky, whose sole Vanguard album was pretty wonderful? (David Blue, an underappreciated performer, is on here...so Sky should be here as well.)
Finally, a word or two about the prose in this package: I thought it would be self-congratulatory puffery about the moral superiority of us folkie types who backed civil rights and were anti-war early, and there is a touch of that here and there. But overall, this is a balanced commentary. There is unneeded profanity which makes some of the commentators sound moronic, and some remarks about marijuana use or easy sex which are childish. However, hard drug use is lamented, and some of the ultra-leftist claptrap that was common in those days is rightly criticized. So, this product is really all about the music. If you want to sample folk music in the decade immediately after Cisco's death, this is a good product. If you want to hear the music he, too, could have heard, it doesn't really have much of that. Personally, I wouldn't pay more than $15 for a used copy. Your money is better spent on the artists you really like.
As of March, 2010, Amazon.com lists this item as no longer available, but publishes several reviews.