Monday, May 16, 2011

A Mediocre Compilation Puts Peter, Paul & Mary Around The Campfire.

The Good: A few good tracks, presented well.
The Bad: Some of the songs are not the best incarnation, Duration
The Basics: Another Peter, Paul And Mary compilation, Around The Campfire seems to continue the group's love of filling the niche of children's singers.

There is something disappointing about going through the works of musical artists one knows to be prolific and finding most of their contemporary albums to simply be compilations of older (or even not so old) albums. In the case of my Artist Of The Month, Peter, Paul & Mary, I'm finding myself especially disappointed with the selection of recordings I was able to get in to listen to and review. My father, who raised me on a pretty steady diet of music like Peter, Paul & Mary and always had such an extraordinary collection of records and tapes of their works while I was growing up, spoiled me in that regard. But as I listen to and consider my third Peter, Paul & Mary album of the month, I find myself disappointed. Around The Campfire is a compilation of music by and performed by Peter, Paul & Mary and sadly, it borrows from both Peter, Paul, & Mommy, Too (reviewed here!) and Lifelines (reviewed here!) which I had just listened to!

Around The Campfire is a compilation that once again is geared toward children. As a result, it borrows heavily from both Peter, Paul, & Mommy and Peter, Paul, & Mommy, Too. There are only four recordings made for this specific compilation and as a result, those who have other Peter, Paul & Mary albums are likely to find this offers very little in the way of overall value to collectors or music enthusiasts. In fact, for a two-disc set, this offers appallingly little and one suspects that the reason the group went for it is that money from the sales of this c.d. helped get kids to summer camps.

Regardless, Around The Campfire is a two-disc set that features twenty-five songs over a combined eighty-five minutes of play. The songs range from classic Peter, Paul & Mary songs like “River Of Jordan, “ “Puff (The Magic Dragon)” and “Weave Me The Sunshine,” to others that the group made popular or were well-presented by the group on prior recordings, like “Leaving On A Jet Plane” and “Where Have All The Flowers Gone.” The group plays their guitars and sings and Peter Yarrow is credited as the album's producer, which is odd because several of the tracks on the original albums they were on did not have him as a producer.

Around The Campfire is a pretty mediocre and safe album of compiled songs. For sure, I was thrilled to hear the creative rendition of “It's Raining” where the song goes into a medley of several other songs. I remember that track clearly from my childhood. But if the concept of Around The Campfire is supposed to be either songs that can be sung around a campfire or are memorable for a context of childhood camping, this song stands out as being one that definitely does not fit the concept. That said, the album does include some real classics like “Michael Row The Boat Ashore” and “Down By The Riverside (Study War No More)” which make great campfire songs. And the presentation of “Right Field” would have been charming to me if I had ever heard it around a campfire.

That said, Around The Campfire is a musical mixed bag. The smooth voices of Yarrow and Stookey are consistent and even the performances culled from albums where the two were young still have a fun, grandfatherly feel to them. However, Mary Travers is somewhat vocally erratic on the album, especially in tracks that come from later albums. So, for example, her voice cracks on “Garden Song” and “Inside.” Still, she is creative and expressive and goes from a range of alto to soprano with a seemingly effortless quality on songs like “It's Raining” and "500 Miles.” Most of the performances are of ballads and the vocals that clearly articulate the lyrics are presented soft, slow and emotively.

As for the instrumental accompaniment, this is very much a classic folk album. The songs are presented with the musical storysongs accompanied by two guitars on most of the tracks. Yarrow and Stookey play well, but these are folk songs designed for the campfire and they are mostly simple tunes where the instrumental accompaniment is just that: accompaniment. Just as the lyrics are not terrible complicated (they are often repetitive as campfire songs are designed to be sung and taught to younger audiences, who seem to handle repetition well.

The songs are generally feelgood songs that would fit a campfire setting well and they have a wholesome quality that makes them rather unobjectionable. The album does not include anything terribly controversial and as a result, it is a good album for families. The songs range from the quiet and sweet relationship song “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and the social metaphor “Inside” (which reminds listeners that the most important parts of ourselves and others are on the inside, not on how they look) to the sappy romantic “Goodnight, Irene” and the lullaby “Day Is Done.” The songs near the end of the second disc are appropriately mellow and sad, like a fire is dying. “Leaving On A Jet Plane” comes on as a quiet goodnight and while I love the song, it just does not seem to fit the concept.

Around The Campfire is not a bad concept, but it is a poor execution of the basic idea. Instead of providing new songs that were presented as a live concert around a campfire including chorals and rounds and maybe a few stories, this is a bland compilation of (mostly) studio recordings of songs. The songs of social justice that do make good campfire songs (like “If I Had A Hammer”) are presented without any new flair, so this becomes more of a children's album than a true campfire album experience and Peter, Paul, & Mary fans have a ton of those (likely). This one does neither the band, nor collectors any real service. Moreover, two less tracks and this whole thing could have been squeezed onto a single disc and save fans shelf space.

The best track is “It's Raining,” the low point is the unmemorable “Somos El Barco.”

For other folk albums, please check out my reviews:
Any Day Now - Joan Baez
Many Great Companions - Dar Williams
God Bless The Grass - Pete Seeger


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here! There you will find organized lists of all of the music reviews I have done thus far!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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