Fans of Darin's early pop-rock phase and his subsequent period as a Broadway entertainer have long decried Darin's 'folkie' excursions as something of an unwelcome distraction from his so-called 'real' career, but I for one believe that the latter found the 'real' Darin standing up to be counted and creating music of under-rated excellence and personal integrity. Furthermore, it didn't just suddenly 'happen' with the release of Darin's classic cover of Tim Hardin's 'If I Were A Carpenter' in 1966. He started introducing a folk section into his live act in 1963 and recruited a guitar player by the name of Jim (later Roger) McGuinn to arrange the material and accompany him on stage. By this act alone Darin earned a reputation as an important mentor in the history of the mid-1960s folk-rock explosion, encouraging McGuinn to persist in his interest in performing folk music to what he then described as a 'Beatles beat' despite the initial hostility of folk purists. McGuinn duly headed for the West Coast where he encountered a couple of young musicians called Gene Clark and David Crosby who shared his vision and, lo, the Byrds were born. But Darin didn't abandon folk with McGuinn's flight to Los Angeles and ground-breaking commercial success with the Byrds. Having played his part in bringing this development about, Darin recorded the Golden Folk Hits album (issued November 1963) and kept himself fully appraised of what was happening in New York's Greenwich Village folk scene, proving himself alert to recognise the emergent songwriting talents of Tim Hardin and the Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian. Another album in a Broadway vein was shelved on his recording of 'If I Were A Carpenter' and was replaced by a commitment to this new and exciting sound. The resulting long-player, named after the hit single, was (& remains) a truly remarkable achievement. Darin's vocals were pitch-perfect exercises in considered restraint, sensitive and evocative- especially on Buffy Sainte-Marie's 'Until It's Time For You To Go' (so good that it served as the template for Elvis Presley's subsequent cover of Darin's cover!) and the young John Denver's 'For Baby'. But the Tim Hardin songs were a class apart. These performances featured melancholic strings and a rhythm section that only just fell short of funk. Of these, 'Red Balloon' remains arguably the most notable example. The highlight, however, was the stirring rendition of Jeffry Stevens' 'The Girl Who Stood Beside Me', complete with a brilliantly fashioned part for bagpipes: an artistic achievement of no small proportion which despite flopping as a follow-up single to 'Carpenter' has emerged as a minor masterpiece. Lest it be forgotten, this album was a big influence on other folk-rockers. First to acknowledge its understated power was Gene Clark who on leaving the Byrds recorded his 'Echoes' single with an orchestral accompaniment (arranged by Leon Russell) that was transparently inspired by the Carpenter tracks. Also paying close attention was John Philips of the Mamas & the Papas whose excellent production work for Scott McKenzie clearly owed sonic debts to Darin's record.
The follow-up album, Inside Out, included here in its entirety and having been recorded a little too hastily after its illustrious predecessor, suffered only by offering more of the same. This was all well and fine for fans of Carpenter but there was a sense of treading water here that was nowhere apparent on the former. It nevertheless served up a handful of gems in Tim Hardin's 'Lady Came From Baltimore', Randy Newman's 'I Think It's Going To Rain Today' and, most surprisingly, a deliciously delicate version of the Rolling Stones' 'Back Street Girl'. By now, of course, folk-rock pioneers like the Byrds and Jefferson Airplane were advancing into psychedelics- a route that Darin was not inclined to follow. Also included here are 5 out-takes from the period that were first issued on the Rhino box set in 1995, with Darin's version of Ledbelly's 'Easy Rider' an essential listen.
If Bobby Darin had done nothing else in his career he would still be hailed as a folk-rock innovator for the music on this entirely welcomed re-issue. It is a shame, in my view, that the earlier work has served to over-shadow the sheer excellence of what was done here. As far as I'm concerned, this still sounds like musical treasure which simply does not deserve to stay hidden. Top marks to Edsel for the respectful remastering and for suppling one of the most revered re-issues in my music collection.
I am a Tim Hardin fan and was first introduced to his music via Darin's version of 'Carpenter'. This is a good album with, mostly, quality song, performed by a true professional. I first hear Mr Darin when he sang 'Things' and that song is still a favourite after all these years. I must admit I was dubious when I saw the amount of Lovin' Spoonful song, but like the Tim Hardin material, they work.