Back in the '60s at the height of their popularity, The New Christy Minstrels were often snubbed by the folk music purists. Their very popularity—they were a fixture on Andy Williams' TV show—proved they were little more than commercial panderers. Even as late as 2003, Christopher Guest could poke some fun at them as the New Main Street Singers, one of the vocal groups in his folk music mockumentary, A Mighty Wind. And clearly there is much about their music that justifies their critics; authenticity is not one of the group's priorities. They were not like many of the stalwarts in "the folk song army," not much interested in political posturing. Slick production and catchy arrangements, combined with a little cute patter, were more their style.
Still, it is hard not to listen to their best work and smile. There is reason they were so popular back in the day. When they were good, they were very, very good, and when they were bad—well, you get the idea. The best thing about A Retrospective 1962-1970, the new CD from Real Gone Music, is that it separates the wheat from most of the chaff. There are 25 tracks on this single CD and hardly a clinker in the bunch. Sure there are some songs—especially those from the later date---which will rub the folkies the wrong way, but for the less pedantic listener, even these will be welcome reminders of a happy past.
The group, founded by Randy Sparks, underwent many personnel and some management changes over the years and the compilation illustrates the variety of its manifestations. The interesting thing is that through all the changes, the ensemble managed to maintain its signature sound, even after the departure of a gravel voice as distinctive as that of Barry McGuire. Extensive liner notes running 16 pages documenting the group's journey complete with archival photos by Christy historian, Tom Pickles, are included with the disc.