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Classic Album Review-The Browns “Our Favorite Folk Songs”

Greetings from Asheville, where good music is always found on the turntable, in the CD player, or in the MP3 player.  Back with a new Classic Album Review, taking a look at a 1961 release from Jim Ed, Bonnie, and Maxine, The Browns.  Our Favorite Folks Songs was a March release on the RCA label, their fourth album release.  The album didn’t chart (there was no Country album chart, at that time), and the solo single released, “Ground Hog”, made only a brief appearance on the Pop charts, peaking at 97.

“Ground Hog” is the opening track for the album.  A spritely version, featuring tight, close harmonies that one expects on a Browns’ track.  While not a hit, it’s still a good quality opening track.

“Down In The Valley” is one of those songs that nearly everyone has heard, at some point, whether on a turntable, in a CD player, on TV, or around a campfire.  The Browns’ version ranks among the best I’ve heard of this track.  Nothing fancy, here, just some excellent singing.

“Down On The Old Plantation” is a song that goes back to at least the 1920’s.  Carson Robison recorded it and is credited as the composer.  Here, the Browns take an old number and bring new life, with their take.  Their harmonies are perfect for this track.

The album’s highlight, may well be “Shenandoah”.  One of the great melodies of American music, this performance is one of the best listening experiences you’ll have.  Beautiful piece of work, here.

“Columbus Stockade Blues” is a Country classic from the early days of the genre.  Darby & Tarlton had a big hit with the song in 1927, and even though the song isn’t heard too often, today, it’s still a highly recognizable piece of music that remains an important piece of history.  This version is somewhat different than most, with the smoother tones of the trio and the more folk-pop feel of the arrangement.  However, rather than detracting from the song, it merely gave it a refreshing feel, and one gets that feeling, even today, 51 years after it’s release.

Side one ends with the bluegrass standard, “In The Pines”.  Of course, here there’s no trace of bluegrass, however, there is a strong blues element running through this track.  While those who may prefer the Bill Monroe or Louvin Brothers versions may not be crazy about The Browns’ smooth, easy take, I actually love it and think it’s one of the album’s highlights.

Side two opens with a song that, again, nearly everyone has heard, thanks mostly to the Beach Boys.  “John B Sails” is the song’s original title and apparently is based on an actual ship from 19th Century Bahamas.  The Weavers, The Kingston Trio, and Lonnie Donegan are among those who recorded it as “The Wreck Of The John B”, while the Beach Boys made it “Sloop John B”.  Johnny Cash even recorded it as “I Want To Go Home”.  As for the Browns’ version, it’s more along the lines of the folk style often utilized on this song, and done quite well.

Another old song found here, “Poor Wayfaring Stranger”.  Another track that is a standard in both folk and bluegrass music (not to mention Emmylou Harris’ country hit in 1980).  I think this is the best version of the song, I’ve heard.  They make it sound like it was written specifically for them.

The intro of “Whose Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet” has a sound similar to Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”. Another older song, this one has a slower tempo and again, works well with the trio’s harmonies.  There is a great article about this song at the blog, Comparative Video 101.  I highly recommend checking it out.

In another review, I noted how the song “Clementine” generally feels old and that it generally hasn’t aged well, with the exception being that of the swinging version Bobby Darin recorded.  That said, you have to like this version.

“My Pretty Quadroon” is a song that may date as far back as the Civil War or shortly thereafter.  A grieving slave, whose love has been taken by his master, the song, itself, doesn’t do anything for me, but the performance is excellent.

The album wraps with a standout version of the Carter Family classic “Wildwood Flower”.  I believe that Maxine Brown sings lead, here (shame on me for not knowing for certain), and the similarities in her vocals to that of Maybelle Carter’s are noticeable.  It’s a good ending track to a fine album.

Long out of print, used copies can be found.  I located some, in the $5 to $25 range, though most were around $10.

My Standout Track is “Shenandoah”, while my Hidden Gem is “Columbus Stockade Blues”.  As for Weakest Track, it’s really not that weak, just not a song that did anything for me, “My Pretty Quadroon”.

Overall, a great album that too many people know nothing about.  It’s highly unlikely that when you see lists of classic Country albums, that you’ll see this one listed, but I think it should at least be considered.  It’s that good.  When you record an album of already well known standards, it’s difficult to do anything truly different to make them stand out from other versions, yet there are several tracks, here, where that indeed happens.  I really like this album; in fact, it’s already burned to a CD and enjoying several plays.  I rate it a 5 out of 5.

Your thoughts?

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