When some people think of '60s music, they think first of the Beatles. Or the "British Invasion" that followed the Beatles' debut. Or the "San Francisco Sound." Or the golden age of soul.
But for many -- especially those who were white college students during the early years of the decade -- the first thing that comes to mind is folk music. Never before or since has this genre been so popular.
Even though the folk-music renaissance faded after the mid-'60s, its influence is strongly felt in such modern performers as Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, Billy Bragg and the Indigo Girls. For younger fans of these artists who would like to check out what inspired them, and for nostalgic older people, there is an excellent, new three-CD series from Rhino Records, "Troubadours of the Folk Era."
Sold as separate CDs ($13.98 each), the three volumes of "Troubadours" have only two serious flaws. In this case, Rhino was aware of the flaws (actually omissions) but was unable to correct them. At least the label owns up to the omissions. At the end of the song list in the first and second volumes (both devoted to solo artists), it is noted that "Due to licensing restrictions, we were unable to include any material by Bob Dylan."
Likewise, at the end of the song list in the third volume (devoted to groups), it's noted that for the same reason Rhino was unable to include any recordings by Peter, Paul and Mary. (Neither Columbia, which owns the Dylan catalog, nor Warner Bros., which owns the PP&M catalog, would come through with any tracks.)
Beyond those two omissions, though, "Troubadours" includes most of the big names from the era.
The three CDs include a smattering of pre-'60s recordings, like Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," but most of the tracks (18 per disc) come from 1960 to 1966. Among the better-known artists represented are Joan Baez, Eric Andersen, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Carolyn Hester, Donovan, Pete Seeger, Tom Rush, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton, Tim Hardin, Phil Ochs, Richie Havens, Taj Mahal and Tim Buckley.
The collections also feature several of the less-remembered acts of the period. For example, on the "Groups" CD, such outfits as the Au Go-Go Singers, the Even Dozen Jug Band and the Tarriers are included along with the more popular groups, like the Brothers Four, the Limeliters, the Modern Folk Quartet and the New Christy Minstrels.
All three CDs sport excellent sound quality and informative liner notes by folk expert Bruce Pollock.