The Good: Great track selection, Wonderful duration, Wonderful rare recordings!
The Bad: Some of the tracks hold up less-well upon multiple repetitions.
The Basics: A four c.d., 1 DVD set, Carry It On is the definitive collection of obscure and unreleased tracks by Peter, Paul And Mary.
As I ended my study of Peter, Paul and Mary's work, I concluded with the boxed set that was the impetus to select Peter, Paul And Mary as my Artist Of The Month: the massive anthology Carry It On, which was brought to my attention shortly after Mary Travers died. This is arguably the ultimate compilation of Peter, Paul And Mary works, but it is certainly intended more for the enthusiasts of the band than it is for those just getting to know them. The reason for this is simple; while the album includes numerous rare recordings - like Paul's (Noel Stookey) standup comedy routine - it is not comprised of all the recognizable songs. Instead, this is an anthology of the most well-known songs mixed in with obscure renditions of songs, so the mix is a career-spanning collection, but some of the recordings are esoteric and weird and not the best foot forward for the band.
But for those who love Peter, Paul, And Mary, this is an exceptional collection, especially for those who do not have many of the individual albums these tracks are culled from. This is a mix of previously released and unreleased works as well, so offers a decent variety from the almost-fifty year career of this folk band. As well, the four c.d.s and one DVD are packaged with an impressive book which includes rare photographs and statements from other artists and reviewers. Again, this reinforces that this is more of a collectible and collection for the true aficionado of the group than those who are looking for a single Peter, Paul And Mary album to add to their collection. This is like the college course on the band as opposed to the Cliff's Notes.
The four c.d. and single DVD set includes over five hours of music and some rare video performances. Each disc uses the capacity of the medium quite well (save the DVD) and the four discs have a total of fifty-six songs. The fifty-six songs and five hours of music are arranged with twenty-one tracks (74:58) on disc one, twenty-three (75:11) on disc two, twenty-three (76:54) on disc three, and nineteen tracks (77:26) on disc four. The DVD has only eight songs and is less than an hour of material. The album is an excellent representation of how Peter, Paul And Mary have presented themselves over the years as it is a collection that contains both original works and extensive cover songs from other folk artists. As such, Peter, Paul And Mary - the trio of Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers - are not only artists who create their own works, but performers who have been known to make other's works recognizable and sometimes more famous. The mix on this collection is forty-three songs written, arranged or co-written by members of the band. The others are written by folk legends like Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Gordon Lightfoot, The Weavers and rising stars like Tom Paxton, John Denver, Buddy Mondlock. The recordings are culled from twenty-eight previous albums with three songs that were never before released.
This compilation also reveals how engaged the band was in making the music they made, though. Most of the songs feature only the two men on acoustic guitars and all three members of the band sing. As well, as the group matured, the members of the band co-produced the albums and they are credited as co-producer of this specific compilation as well.
What can one expect when playing these many, many tracks? First, Peter, Paul And Mary have a decent mix of social commentary and folk songs that are about raw human emotions. But largely, the songs are folk ballads in the familiar vein of "Puff, The Magic Dragon," "Lemon Tree," and "Blowin' In The Wind." This collection does an excellent job of mixing the social commentary ("Don't Laugh At Me," "Conscientious Objector (I Shall Die)," "Greenland Whale Fisheries") with the longing and emotional ("Leaving On A Jet Plane," "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine"). The songs range from the dark and serious ballads like "The Cruel War" to the fun and playful ("Right Field"). This collection culls a good mix.
But it is all folk music. This means that much of it is instrumentally simple. This collection is largely like one would suspect form a folk group: two guys on guitars accompanying rousing or passionate vocals. As well, many folk songs - like the ones included from Gordon Lightfoot or Pete Seeger - were designed to be shared and taught easily, which means they are very simple in the instrumental accompaniment. That is not to say the album is either boring or devoid of melodies. For sure, my partner would agree as we have walked around humming "The Times They Are A-Changin'" for several days now and ever since I was a kid, I knew the tune to "Lemon Tree." But songs like "All Mixed Up" and "El Salvador" have almost no recognizable or memorable tune and the band adapts to that with more direct and empowered vocals.
As for the vocals, Peter, Paul And Mary is one of the truly most collaborative musical groups. In addition to tracks from each of the artists' single careers - they separated several times in the band's history - the bandmembers have a great back-and-forth between them. So, for example, despite possessing a great soprano in Mary Travers, Travers gives the men opportunities to sing in the higher ranges of their ability, like on "The Great Mandala (The Wheel Of Life)." Similarly, Mary Travers presents songs that go lower when she has the emotional resonance to carry a song. Tracks like "The Cruel War" illustrate her range and she goes from the soprano to lower ranges flawlessly.
Above all, the members of Peter, Paul And Mary are astonishingly articulate. They sing songs clearly and with an emotional impact needed to make their storysongs resonate. Newer songs like "Don't Laugh At Me" are sung clearly and it is obvious that the message of the songs is what the group wants listeners to take away from their music. And they have decent, enlightened messages like when the band sings "Don't laugh at me / Don't call me names / Don't get your pleasure from my pain / In God's eyes we're all the same / Someday we'll all have perfect wings / Don't laugh at me" ("Don't Laugh At Me"). And while some of the tracks are very specific - like "El Salvador" - they are all enlightening. After all, if one has to learn about how the U.S. Government operates in the Third World, why shouldn't it be in song form?
The only real drawback comes from the repeatability of the albums. First, this is an expensive collection for those who already have a lot of Peter, Paul And Mary music, as most of the tracks do come from other recordings. Second, some of the tracks are less wonderful upon multiple listens. I thrilled to the standup routine of Noel Stookey the first time I heard it (it is rather inoffensive observational humor that is still funny now), but like a lot of standup routines, it becomes more tiresome upon multiple listens and given that it occupies over ten minutes on the first disc, it is a long way to go before one gets to the next batch of music.
Even so, this is a wonderful anthology for anyone who likes folk music, even if it might be overbearing to those who are on the fence about this style music. As one who loves folk, this is one that I will gladly keep on my shelf . . . as soon as my father dies and thus passes it on to me.
For other albums by Peter, Paul And Mary, please check out my reviews of:
Peter, Paul And Mary
Peter, Paul, & Mommy, Too
Around The Campfire
Songs Of Conscience & Concern
In These Times
The Very Best Of Peter, Paul And Mary
For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.