Amazingly, this is only the second compilation (discounting the mail-order only Readers Digest set) in the history of Peter, Paul & Mary
, and it is the perfect compliment to Ten Years Together: The Best of Peter, Paul & Mary. Drawn primarily from the trio's 1980s and 1990s material, it's a profile of the group's most serious songs from their second phase -- what most casual fans will find most startling, apart from how good the group sounds, is how unflinching they are in their seriousness, at a point when most people had stopped listening, or even wanting to listen to what they had to say. Most listeners in the 1980s and 1990s wouldn't have taken the trouble it required to think of ignoring them, yet there Peter, Paul & Mary
were, singing exactly the same way and with the same sincerity, confidence, and clarity of message that they'd displayed when millions of college students hung on their every lyric. The voices have held up so well, that it's difficult to believe that "Pastures of Plenty," a Woody Guthrie song that they somehow missed doing in the 1960s, isn't from the '60s instead of the 1990s. The four early songs here, "If I Were Free," "The Great Mandala (The Wheel of Life)," "All My Trials," and "Old Coat," mesh seamlessly with the newer work. Among the latter material, the hands-down highlight is "El Salvador," co-authored by Paul Stookey; with its piercing, sardonic lyrics, gorgeous harmonies, attractive melody, and good hooks, it ought to have gotten it onto the radio as a single -- except that even beyond the tighter formats that existed in the 1980s, radio stations were far less willing to offend the Reagan administration than they were to offend Lyndon Johnson over the war 20 years earlier. Moreover, the way it slides right into "The Great Mandala," cut almost 20 years earlier, is startling. And their return to a late-'50s calypso sound on Pete Seeger
's "All Mixed Up" is an unexpected delight, as well as a break from the seriousness of much of the rest of the material. This CD may date primarily from their second phase, but there's nothing secondary about its content.