Thursday, December 09, 2010


I recently spent a few minutes talking with Noel Stookey (now firmly using his real first name), and the conversation turned here and there on both Peter Paul & Mary, his solo work and Christmas songs. I mentioned my favorite solo song of his ("Sebastian") and he smiled and told me that when he started to write it, it was about a guitar, not a boy! The full story is on his site: right here.

The song itself is streaming on his website (streaming, not for free download) and you can hear it here.

I mentioned that my favorite PP&M album was "Movin'" which I first got on vinyl, in mono. Later, hearing it in stereo on CD, I was amazed at the vivid harmonies, especially with headphones on. "We tried to work it so that each voice expressed something different," he told me. This was a far different concept from what the Everly Brothers or Simon & Garfunkel did, and when it works, it's astonishing. On "Movin'" the best example is "Flora" (aka "Lily of the West") which I mentioned to Noel was the first song I'd heard from that album (not "Puff the Magic Dragon") and the reason I bought it. In a song about a woman and her two rivals, PP&M vividly take up those roles.

I wrote about Noel some time ago in a national magazine article about the world of Christian rock and pop music, which benefitted from some respected names (Noel, B.J. Thomas, Barry McGuire, Gary Paxton) and began to develop its own roster of talent (including Annie Herring, who you can hear on this blog). It was my idea to cover that subject, because I felt it was newsworthy and something the average rock journalist was "too hip" or (too narrow-minded?) to explore. Glad it was actually published. As Dylan would later prove via "Gotta Serve Somebody," it's possible to write "Christian" and not be corny. And in fact to still be Jewish.

Which brings me to one final point about PP&M. They were one of the first groups to offer both Jewish and Christian music on a record album. "Movin'" which was released over 40 years ago, has powerful songs for both Chanukah ("Man Come Into Egypt") and Christmas ("A 'Soalin'). This was a profoundly "mixed" group, not ignoring religion, but celebrating the different cultures. Peter and Paul were Jewish and Christian, and could successfully sing songs about their cultures, and make them accessible to all. Compare that to Simon & Garfunkel, who actually sang nothing about Judaism and everything about churches burning and "Silent Night."

As we approach Christmas, here's "A Soalin'." With its borrowing from "God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen," it's a song that very much captures the poignance of this time of year, with its reflected joys and sorrows.

Is it possible to find joy in the simple gift of an apple? A pear? A plum? I think you know the answer. If you don't, you're probably asking "why don't I get a full download of that "Movin'" album instead of one live track that Peter & Noel actually have authorized to give away free?" Here, from a concert performance a few years ago, the great Noel Stookey, and his little friend Mr. Yarrow, perform a seasonal favorite…

A' Soalin' - PETER YARROW, NOEL STOOKEY Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait times or money extortion.

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