If you go by a strictly commercial standard then the Kingston Trio were the most popular folk group in the world when the Fifties changed into the Sixties. Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds, and Bob Shane also helped to make folk music hugely popular with the record buying public and a pretty good argument can be made that because Capitol Records was making so much with the Kingston Trio then could afford to take chances to put Pete Seeger (formerly of the blacklisted Weavers) under contract or to sign a young singer-songwriter named Bob Dylan. At the same time they were not especially embraced by the serious folk audience, who frowned upon the group's popularization of traditional songs. However, the one place where the Kingston Trio received a good reception was at the Newport Folk Festival as this live album from 1959 evidences.
Following an introduction by George Wein, the Jazz Pianist who founded the Newport Jazz Festival, the Kingston Trio do a 12-song set that mixes some traditional songs such as "Saro Jane," "When the Saints Go Marching In," and "Three Jolly Coachmen" with some of the group's early hits including "M.T.A." and "Remember the Alamo." But there are also some of the original songs written by the group with "All My Sorrows" and "Scotch and Soda." There is also the Calypso song "The Zombie Jamboree," which makes for a fun finale. The performance is not as polished as some of the group's live nightclub albums from this period, such as "from the 'Hungry I,'" but it does have a nice sense of energy. Now all we need is for a domestic version of this CD to be produced so having it is no longer cost prohibitive.
It's been fifty years (!) since The Kingston Trio set the pop world afire with "Tom Dooley" and "(Charlie on the) MTA," and, in the process, turned "folk" music mainstream. College kids with energy, talent, and lively humor to burn, the Trio avoided the protest songs and controversy which led to the blacklisting of The Weavers during the McCarthy era. Featured at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958, they became star attractions the following year when the Newport Folk Festival was inaugurated.
This CD, recorded at that 1959 Festival but not released until 1994, highlights the youth, high spirits, and just plain good fun of a Kingston Trio concert, long before rock concerts became the norm. Only thirty-seven minutes long, this CD contains mostly songs that were already big hits (and had already been recorded), but for those newbies wanting a short sample of their music and performing style or long-time fans wanting a historic live recording, this does the job nicely.
"Saro Jane," "Hard Ain't It Hard," "When the Saints Go Marching In," and "Three Jolly Coachmen" have the insistent rhythms of guitar and banjo, the unrelenting energy, and the easy harmonies that typify Kingston Trio albums. "All My Sorrows," "South Coast," and "Scotch and Soda" add some quieter, minor-keyed variety to the selection. Their wild, irreverent humor, as close as the Trio gets to a protest, is seen in "Merry Minuet," in which the "rioting in Africa" and "starving in Spain," becomes a comment on politics and the environment, which may someday be solved by the "mushroom-shaped cloud."
Filled with the high-pitched screams and cheers of their young audience, to which the group plays with asides and seemingly off-the-cuff remarks, this CD is classic Kingston Trio--loads of fun and loads of now-familiar songs. For those wanting a bigger selection of songs and a much longer album, the "Hungry I" CD may be one to look at. Mary Whipple