Friday, December 21, 2012

Kingston Trio: The Last Month Of The Year

Some of us who happened to be born when we did were forced to learn about much of the music on this blog well after the fact. We heard about the Beatles, Stones, Who and so forth on the radio, as our parents were too busy raising kids to experience the ‘60s. There was music in the house, to be sure, but their record collections were stuck in an earlier era—lots of Frank Sinatra and Henry Mancini, but also Christmas albums and, at their most radical, the Kingston Trio.
Compared with some of the other folksingers of the time, the Trio was fairly inoffensive—well-scrubbed young men with buzzcuts and matching shirts, looking for all the world like they’d met at a fraternity party at some small university. Their harmonies and pop sensibility made them safe for listeners of all ages, usually avoiding controversy and overt protest. (Though a single listen to “The Merry Minuet” will dispel any notions that they had their heads in the sand.)
There’s no doubt that they were talented, and each of the fellows were avid researchers of music from around the world to add to their repertoire. When they recorded what was basically a Christmas album, they naturally eschewed the type of songs that had been pop hits, presenting a selection of more obscure folk songs related not to Santa Claus but to December, The Last Month Of The Year. The theme of Christmas does run through the album, even on the lullabies “All Through The Night” and “Bye Bye Thou Little Tiny Child” (a.k.a. the Coventry Carol). “Goodnight My Baby” is a tad too upbeat to be a lullaby, but it does mention Saint Nick. The liner notes say that “Go Where I Send Thee” had its roots in Jewish and Christian traditions, but their version is definitely spiritual. “Mary Mild” is an odd little song about the boy Jesus being shunned by the neighbor kids for being born in a stable, masking the part of the story where the kids drown. “The White Snows Of Winter” is a gorgeous love song we’re surprised hasn’t been revived of late.
There are two songs we’ve only heard one other place—“Sing We Noel” and “Follow Now, Oh Shepherds” both appeared on the Harry Simone Chorale album a few years earlier. Other songs get unique treatments, such as “Sommerset Gloucestershire Wassail”. “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” is delivered round-style, matching the other side’s “A Round About Christmas”, which is the one about the goose getting fat and ha’pennies.
The album was apparently a sizable flop upon release, illustrated by its absence from the aforementioned record collection heavy on both Kingston Trio and Christmas albums. It stayed out of print for over thirty years, until Capitol rereleased the Trio catalog. After many of those were deleted, an oldie boutique label had it for a while. We must acknowledge the colleague that brought it to our attention during its limbo years, and we’re pleased to report that The Last Month Of The Year is available via the usual download outlets. Not quite the same as holding the LP/CD in your hands and reading/squinting at the liner notes while it plays, but at least the music can be heard. Which is good, because it’s wonderful.

The Kingston Trio The Last Month Of The Year (1960)—4
Current CD availability: none; download only

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