Peter, Paul And Mary – Peter, Paul And Mary – Warner Brothers WS 1449 (1962)/ Original Recordings Group ORG 069 (2014) 45-rpm (2-12” stereo vinyls), TT: 33:14 *****:
(Peter Yarrow – guitar, vocals; Noel “Paul” Stookey – guitar, Vocals; Mary Travers – vocals)
As the story goes, Manager Albert Grossman created Peter Paul and Mary in 1961. He auditioned several musicians (including Dave Van Ronk), and Peter Yarrow, Noel “Paul” Stookey and Mary Travers began their ascent into American musical history. The folk revival had been framed by Delta blues and socio-political artists like Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger (The Weavers). Peter Paul And Mary helped to assimilate the “folk protest” genre into mainstream culture. With a combination of original material, and covers (including memorable Bob Dylan material), the trio rocketed to stardom. Their prominence in counterculture annals was forever captured, performing “Blowing: In The Wind” and “If I Had A Hammer” at the 1963 March on Washington which featured the mesmerizing “I Have A Dream” speech by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. They performed sporadically for five decades, and scored a No. 1 hit with “Leaving On A Jet Plane” in 1969.
Original Recordings Group has re-mastered their self-titled debut to 45-rpm audiophile vinyl. The well-crafted arrangements and vocal prowess are on full display. Side A opens with a jaunty Stookey composition (“Early In The Morning”). The connection to folk gospel roots anchors the spiritual energy. What makes the music soar is the remarkable three-part harmonies. Regardless of who sings lead the blend of the voices is precise and rich in texture. “500 Miles” showcases Travers’ crystal, tender vocals with the underlying gospel melancholy. Closing the side is a Stookey-Yarrow update of the bluegrass traditional classic “I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow” (here simply titled “Sorrow”). The subtlety of the vocal mix is engaging. The transitions in volume and punctuation are flawless.
Side Two pays homage to folk history. Woody Guthrie’s brilliant “This Train” displays the upbeat rhythmic nuances of the New Folk Movement. The singers interpret this classic with a punctuated singing style that is caressed by bluesy guitar riffs. The “unselected” Dave Van Ronk is covered on “Bamboo” with a breezy, calypso-like vibe. They established a thematic custom for narrative children’s songs with a nursery rhyme-laden “It’s Raining”.
Side Three gets off to a rousing start with “If I Had My Way”. Written by Rev. Gary Davis, this version epitomized the agility of Peter Paul and Mary in reinventing songs. Without losing the religious fervor, a infectious buoyancy is injected (including the resounding “Yeh” at the end). The song became a staple of their performance repertoire. Their anti-war sentiment is examined in “Cruel War”. Again the lucid voice of Travers is enveloped in glowing harmony. “Lemon Tree”, an obscure Brazilian-based folk song became a pop standard after appearing on this album
Side Four commences with possibly the signature song of Peter, Paul And Mary. “If I Had A Hammer” was the iconic proletariat work song written and performed By Pete Seeger and Lee Hays. The narrow appeal of the song (at the time) severely limited any commercial success. Now it symbolized the burgeoning civil rights movement of the 1960s. It is one of Mary Travers’ defining vocal performances. There is spontaneity and relaxed confidence in her voice, After a Celtic-infused ditty (“Autumn To May”), the album comes to a dramatic finale with “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”. Another Seeger gem, the timeless social commentary is framed in simplicity with an effectively hushed final verse.
This ORG 45-rpm audiophile vinyl has excellent sonic balance and depth. The blend of vocal timbres is flawless. As the volumes increase and abate, the three-part harmony focus remains consistent. Stereo balance is precise and the acoustic guitars radiate quiet warmth. The original liner notes are anecdotal and droll in hindsight (…These dynamic “youngsters” have been together almost a year now”…). There are plastic sleeves and an enduring album cover photographed at the iconic Bitter End. This is one impressive recording debut.
Side A: Early In The Morning; 500 Miles; Sorrow
Side B: This Train; Bamboo; It’s Raining
Side C: If I Had My Way; Cruel War; Lemon Tree
Side D: If I Had A Hammer; Autumn To May; Where Have All The Flowers Gone