The Best Of The Chad Mitchell Trio: The Mercury Years
Mercury Records, 1998
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/08/1999
When I was a youngster, one of the records that I remember as being among my dad's favorites was one from a group called The Mitchell Trio, That's The Way It's Gonna Be. While I was too young to understand some of the humor that this group - which, at the time, introduced a young singer to the world named John Denver - I knew that I liked what I heard. In the end, I ended up commandeering the record (along with most of my dad's collection), and the record got ruined through overplay and careless handling.
Many of the group's albums are long-deleted, but some of the band's output while on Mercury Records (honestly, I wasn't aware until reading the liner notes they once recorded on Kapp) is now available on The Best Of The Chad Mitchell Trio: The Mercury Years. While it would be a stretch to say that such a disc would win over new fans over three decades since this group called it a day, anyone who enjoys folk music from the '60s will have been eagerly awaiting such a collection.
In one sense, the power that a lot of these songs once had has all but vanished with the passage of time. When they were recorded, songs like "Alma Mater" and "Barry's Boys" were stinging indictments of the society that the group's members - Chad Mitchell, Mike Kobluk, Joe Frazier and, in later years replacing Mitchell, Denver - were growing up facing. These days, if you were to play these songs for your kids, they'd probably give you the "deer-in-the-headlights" look.
Ah, but there is still a lot of magic left in some of these songs. Tracks like "I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound," "Stewball And Griselda" and "Cherry Tree Carol" all are bound to make you sit up and pay attention to what the group is singing about - "Cherry Tree Carol" especially during the holiday season.
And the dry humor that The Chad Mitchell Trio oozed in performance is still plainly visible. Check out "A Dying Business" (a commentary on the racket some funeral homes seem to run), "The Draft Dodger Rag" or "Your Friendly, Liberal, Neighborhood Ku-Klux-Klan". (Don't let Jesse Jackson listen to "An African Song (On That Great Civilized Morning)"; he probably won't understand that the song was a condemnation of America's way of thinking about Africa in the '60s.) Strangely missing from this collection is one of my favorites of all-time, "The I Was Not A Nazi Polka"... wonder why they chose not to include it.
The shifting of the band's style from folk group to an attempt at pop success is clearly heard on two songs, "Dark Shadows And Empty Hallways" and "Stay With Me". And while they're pretty, they seem to go against the grain of what the band had been for all those years. It's no surprise then that these songs marked the beginning of the end for the group - and the start of Denver's eventual solo career.
Even if the kids might not understand some of the politics, and they might get a little bored with some of the more traditional-sounding folk tunes, The Best Of The Chad Mitchell Trio: The Mercury Years is a disc they should be exposed to, if only to show them how popular music has evolved over the last 30 years. For their parents - or those of us who grew up with the music of our parents - this disc will represent both a blast from the past and a re-education about the music we thought we knew.