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Music Reviews: Kingston Trio – Once Upon A Time and Twice Upon A Time

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The Kingston Trio return with the release of two CDs of rare live material. Once Upon A Time and Twice Upon A Time were created from The Kingston Trio’s performances at the Sahara, Tahoe in July of 1966.

The Kingston Trio was formed in 1957 by Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds, and Dave Gard. John Stewart replaced Gard in 1961. The group released 18 albums between 1958 and 1964. These albums sold in the millions. The Kingston Trio rank fourth in the number of weeks their albums have spent at number one on the national charts. Only The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson have spent more weeks atop the music charts.

The Kingston Trio was an important American folk group. They took traditional folk songs that told stories and moved them in a pop direction. They were the bridge between such early folk artists as Woody Guthrie and the Weavers and later artists such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.

The Kingston’s Trio’s position as hit makers ended in 1963. The British Invasion took away many of there younger fans. In addition the protest movement took folk music in a different direction that made the songs of the Kingston Trio obsolete. The group soldiered on until 1967 and then disbanded. Bob Shane reformed the group in 1969 and a number of revolving members have kept the group alive into 2008.

Once Upon A Time and Twice Upon A Time were recorded near the end of the Kingston’s Trio’s original run. By this time they had perfected their concert sound. Their vocals were strong and the harmonies precise. They backed themselves primarily with acoustic guitars, banjo and a stand up bass. The musicianship of the group's members was superb.

Once Upon A Time, recorded at the Sahara in 1966, was originally released in vinyl LP form on the Tetragammaton label in 1969. The label went bankrupt and these performances disappeared from public view for decades.

Once Upon A Time is a must for Kingston Trio fans and folk aficionados. It catches the group at their best. I was smiling two songs into the set. The patter between songs is worth the price of the CD.

Their classic material is presented effortlessly. “Tom Dooley,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “Scotch and Soda,” “Greenback Dollar,” and M.T.A. all transport the listener back to a simpler time when the song’s story was important and entertaining.

It is interesting to hear the Kingston Trio tackling songs of the time. Such Bob Dylan songs as “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” “One Too Many Mornings,” and “Baby You Been On My Mind” are changed and made simpler under the musical direction of the Kingston Trio. The group had the good sense to avoid Dylan’s overtly protest songs as they did not fit their style. Gordon Lightfoot's, “Early Morning Rain,” and Donovan’s, “Colours,” are given sensitive treatments. The rousing harmonies of “Wimoweh” show years of practice.

The audience reaction is sedate at first and gradually builds until they are totally invested and clapping and cheering.

Once Upon A Time is a fitting conclusion to the first Kingston Trio era and should not be missed.

Twice Upon A Time came to life as a result of Once Upon A Time being reissued. It was found that the original tapes included a number of alternate performances and even some songs that were not included on the original release. These performances were gathered together and released as a separate CD, appropriately titled Twice Upon A Time. 

There is a lot of repetition on this companion CD. Once Upon A Time may be enough for many people and it does have a better feel for being an actual concert. If you are a Kingston Trio fan who wants every song the group ever produced or are just plain curious, then this second CD is for you. Live versions of Tom Paxton’s, “Where I’m Bound,” Eric Anderson’s, Thirsty Boots,” plus “The Spinning Of The World,” “Little Maggie,” “Reuben James” and more all make their Kingston Trio debuts.

The real gem contained on Twice Upon A Time is a live video version of Bob Dylan’s, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.” This rare video shows how dynamic and polished the Kingston Trio were in concert.

Once Upon A Time and Twice Upon A Time would be welcome additions to any person’s musical library.

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