A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.
White Hot stamper sound on side two – a Demo Disc for acoustic folk music. Better than Super Hot on side one – sound that’s sweeter than wine. This copy is stereo, and for good reason: the mono pressings are full of vocal distortion. Reasonably quiet vinyl for an early Vanguard pressing.
This early pressing on the early Black and Silver Vanguard label has glorious sound! It’s right up there with the best we have ever heard The Weavers.
Superb air and space, with a very extended top. Sweet vocals. Big, rich, tubey and clear, this side will be hard to beat. Play track three to hear the kind of guitar harmonics and vocal intimacy that are simply no longer possible on modern vinyl.
The huge reverb sounds just right – very rich and tubey and smooth.
Listen to how rich the bass is on the third track. It’s not perfect but it’s right for this era and right for this music.
What to Listen For (WTLF)
What did we listen for on this album? Pretty much the same things we listen for on most albums (with the exception of Whomp Factor I suppose; acoustic guitars, banjos and voices don’t produce much whomp).
Obviously you need transparency to allow all the vocal and instrumental parts to be heard clearly. There is not a trace of phony Hi-Fi sound anywhere to be found on the album, so finding a copy with the most information in its grooves is our main goal. On phony records a bit of smear or opacity can actually be a good thing. Here we want none.
Some copies are going to be thick and opaque to some degree. Such is the nature of vinyl. More often than not some of the transient information is smeared, making the banjo and guitar lose their pluck and voices their breathiness. This recording is all tube — a single microphone with tube preamp, a tube tape recorder, an all-tube mastering chain; it’s tubes, more tubes and nothing but tubes, which means that there is plenty of Tubey Magic and warmth.
Fortunately, on this copy these qualities do not come at the expense of clarity and transparency. The best copies give you plenty of both.
Having done this for so long, we understand as well as anyone that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate solid, palpable, real people singing and playing live in your listening room. The best copies had an uncanny way of doing just that.
It took years to find enough clean copies to do this shootout, so Weavers fans and folk fans in general are here forewarned that we are probably not going to be in a position to do another shootout for this wonderful album for a very long time. If we get lucky in our record hunting things may change, but for now it looks like this is it.
When The Stars Begin To Fall
We’re All Dodgin’
Brother Can You Spare A Dime
Rally Round The Flag
Get Along Little Dogies
Which Side Are You On
Bye, Baby, Bye
“The Weavers’ Almanac” is a studio album the group cut a little while before they disbanded for the final time in 1963. By this time Pete Seeger had been replaced by Erik Darling, although he would very soon depart to form his new trio the Rooftop Singers. The other founding members – Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman and Ronnie Gilbert – remained working until the following year with Bernie Krause. By 1963 the worst excesses of McCarthyism had passed but the Weavers remained committed to delivering songs that drew from their concerns, several of which can be found on this album.
The 12 songs here cover different aspects of the American story. To quote Studs Terkel’s notes in the booklet, “They are pieces of a history, mementos of trial, tribulation, laughter and survival.”
The tribulation is most keenly felt on ‘Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?’, which reflects the Great Depression of the 30s, and ‘Which Side Are You On’, which documents the struggles for union recognition in the mining industry. To balance these social concerns, there is humour with ‘We’re All Dodgin’’ and ‘Bill’, both underlining the importance of laughter in life.
Then there is an updating of Woody Guthrie’s ‘Jackhammer John’, a song derived from an early minstrel tune, harking back to the 1860s when songs such as ‘Rally Round The Flag’ were part of the revival of the Union armies in the Civil War. To modern ears the most striking songs here are those sung by Ronnie Gilbert. Her clear and expressive voice on ‘When The Stars Begin To Fall’, ‘A-Walkin’ And A-Talkin’’ and the gentle lullaby ‘Bye Baby Bye’ rivals any female folk singer.
Perhaps the best summation of the group is found on ‘Fight On’, a simple song to inspire people to continue striving for a batter life for all. Although the group was soon to disband, it was a message the members kept fighting for as they went their separate ways.
Hearing the group singing a studio album is a different experience from listening to their live recordings, but richly rewarding. Their ranks contained so much songwriting, playing and singing talent that it can take an album like this to be fully appreciated.