Tell Tales! Legends and Nonsense/Land of Giants

by: The New Christy Minstrels

Way back in 1963 and 1964, folk music was big business, and the New Christy Minstrels stood at the forefront of its most popular flowering. If Peter, Paul & Mary made their mark by rearranging older material for their rich vocals, the New Christy Minstrels one-upped the trio by enlisting as many as 14 singers/players to bring forth Randy Sparks' vision. The instrumental arrangements on Tell Tales! Legends and Nonsense (1963) and Land of Giants (1964) are sparse, with banjos, guitars, and fiddles serving as tasteful backdrop. The central component of the Minstrels' style is complicated vocal arrangements, featuring parts and counterparts juxtaposed against multiple lead singers. "Blacksmith of Brandywine" begins with a smooth blending of two groups of singers, one emanating from each side of the stereo spectrum. This is augmented by several lead male/female vocals, and the intermingling of leads and group harmony grows in complexity as the song progresses. Similar arrangements inform "In the Hills of Shiloh" and "Down to Darby." The fake Irish accents, dramatic monologues, and exuberant presentation all identify the group as professional musicians who owe more to the popular minstrel tradition of the 19th century than the folk tradition practiced by poor southern whites and blacks. This bothered some folk purists who decried popularized versions of traditional songs, but the New Christy Minstrels' fashionable form of folk music was never intended for them. Tell Tales! Legends and Nonsense/Land of the Giants offers a generous sampling of the group's infectious harmony and complex choral arrangements, and serves as a fine introduction to popular folk music made at the height of the American folk revival. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

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