A LONGER perspective may revise the view, but it appears from a distance of a few months that 1962 was the year when the folk-music revival outlived its period as a fad and became an established staple in the popular-music diet of this country’s listeners.
Last year many recording companies were adding artist and repertory men who specialized in folk music. Concert attendance and recording sales confirmed the fact that the banjo-and-ballad set had “arrived.” It was also a year of new groups, new singers and song writers, new labels and some new tacks for older performers. ‘
Joan Baez retained her hegemony among young performers. In Joan Baez in Concert (Vanguard 9112; stereo 2122), she holds firm to the same untrammelled naturalness and interpretive integrity that brought her beautiful vocalism to the fore three years ago.
A major talent emerged in the person of Bob Dylan (Columbia CL 1779; stereo CS 8579), as poet, song writer and performer. As stirring an impression as this incredibly talented maverick made with his first disk, he is developing faster than he is being recorded.
Scotland’s Jean Redpath displayed such a splendidly pure soprano and such perception of musical and folklore values on Scottish Ballad Book (Elektra 214), Skipping Barefoot Through the Heather (Prestige INT 13041) and, especially, Songs of Love, Lilt, Laughter (Elektra 224) that fans were beginning to think her folk-music’s Sutherland to Miss Baez’s Tebaldi.
Among new groups, The Rooftop Singers on Walk Right In! (Vanguard 9123; stereo, VSD2136) created a genuinely new style, breaking with both the Weavers and the Kingston Trio approaches. The Rooftops, headed by Erik Darling, draw upon blues and gospel rhythms, fusing a relaxed manner, an uncontrived beat with tastefully shaped arrangements. Definitely an ensemble to watch.
Among the new song writers of uncommon promise were Oklahoma-born Tom Paxton, recorded at Greenwich Village’s Gaslight Cafe on I’m the Man That Built the Bridges (Gaslight GV 116), and a West Coast newcomer on The Balladeer Hoyt Axton (Horizon WP 1601), which includes his clever song ‘Greenback Dollar’. Among writers whose ingratiating songs have been widely picked up is Michael Brown, to be heard on Alarums & Excursions (Impulse A-24).
Disks by young women that made strong impressions during the year were the delicate and sensitive Judy Mayhan: Rockin’ the Cradle (Horizon WP 1605) and the Baez-like Lynn Gold (Warner Brothers 1495); The alto, Judy Collins, was even more winning: in her second disk, Golden Apples of the Sun (Elektra 222), than in her debut. Creditable first-recordings came from these city singers: Roger Abrahams (Prestige INT 13034), Tony Saletan (Prestige INT 13036) and Jackie Washington (Vanguard VRS9110).
Two dependable journeymen’s work was released by Monitor on Jack Elliott: Rambling Cowboy (MP 379) and Logan English in American Folk Ballads (MF 388).
Interesting new labels started last year. Horizon, based in Los Angeles, dwells on the city scene and veers toward the pop folk market. Among those on Horizon besides Miss Mayhan and Mr. Axton are Jean Duran, Katie Lee, Paul Sykes, Barbara Dane, Travis Edmonson and Barry & Barry. At the opposite end of the pole is Folk Legacy, a new label run by Sandy Paton in Huntington, Vt. The first three Polk-Legacy issues, Frank Profitt, Edna Ritchie and Joseph Able Trivett, couple a devotion to the country traditional performer with exhaustive annotations by folklore authorities. An excellent independent recording of pre-bluegrass country string band music, Philo Glee and Mandolin Society, was issued by the Campus Folksong Club at the University of Illinois in Champaign.
Several reissues of importance were released. The most delightful of these is Leadbelly (Capitol T 1821), drawn from several 1944 recordings by the late king of the 12-string guitar. The sound is excellent, and the spirit unquenchable.
Other reissues of merit include Old-Time Southern Dance Music (Old-Timey Records, Box -5073, Berkeley 5, Calif.), the nine disks of Riverside’s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads sung by Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd on the Washington label. Folkways dipped into its archives of the nineteen-forties to come up with valuable items, Woody Guthrie (FA 2483)-and Leadbelly (FA 2488). Elektra culled Ed McCurdy’s several albums of Elizabethan erotic songs to come up with a two-disk The Best of Dalliance (EKL-213).
All was not static with the older generation of folk singers. After many years of recording exclusively with Folkways, Pete Seeger was signed by Columbia. His latest adult disk, Pete Seeger: The Bitter and the Sweet (Columbia CL 1916; stereo, CS 8716), captures the particular performer-audience rapport that Seeger is so adept at establishing. Josh White began a Mercury series of retrospective recordings of his early work on The Beginning (Mercury MG 20724). Sparked by the inspired harmonica playing of Sonny Boy Williamson 2nd, Mr. White turned out his most deeply felt album in several years. Richard Dyer-Bennet continued his hand-picked series on his own label with Stephen Foster Songs (No. 11).
In the crowded group field, Peter, Paul and Mary scored another popular success with their second disk, Moving (Warner Brothers 1473). The New Christy Minstrels (Columbia CL 1872; stereo, CS 8672) is the innocuous work of a 10-voice folk chorus. The Weavers came up with their best disk since their Carnegie Hall album on The Weaver’s Almanac (Vanguard 9100;.stereo VSD 2102). The Chad Mitchell Trio began to add spirit, humor and courageous topical songs to their previous; well-drilled but overly controlled approach. The Chad Mitchell Trio at the Bitter End (Kapp KLV 1281) and Chad Mitchell Trio in Action (Kapp KL 1313) give promise of another major group.
Reflecting some of the idealism that is kindled when folk singers turn ambassadors are two musicians who toured Asia and Africa for the State Department — Steve Addiss and Bill Crofut. Their very pleasant work is to be heard on Such Interesting People (Verve 8519) and World Tour With Folk Songs (Folkways FA 2406).
A parting word on the folk record scene of 1962: Mrs. Sherman’s son, Allan, is a parodist.
© Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 28 April 1963