Mountain City Four

REVIEW: Mountain City Four featuring The McGarrigle Sisters


Mountain City Four featuring The McGarrigle Sisters

This is a historical musical document aimed more toward purists & those who enjoyed the beauty of Canada’s McGarrigle Sisters. 15-previously unissued songs (1963-70) of the early McGarrigle’s who perform with Jack Nissenson & Peter Weldon (banjo/harmonica).

Songs are intriguing & good like “Mean Old Frisco,” (1963) that’s well-recorded for a live tune. Singing is not Peter, Paul & Mary or the Mamas & the Papas. This is an incredibly lively performance typical of the McGarrigle’s.

There are also some live reunion songs from 2012 (2-years after Kate’s passing) that are equally interesting. The distinctive McGarrigle vocals are evident throughout. Produced by Peter Weldon & Jane McGarrigle the songs have held up through the decades. Jack has a typically engaging folk vocal on some tunes.

The self-titled CD Mountain City Four featuring The McGarrigle Sisters (Drops Sept 23–Omnivore) features a version of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass classic “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” with banjo & vocal enthusiasm. The song doesn’t have the impact Elvis Presley gave it but no matter, this is closer to a folk rendition. Elvis didn’t perform his cover with much bluegrass flavor.

Fortunately, the group maintains a sound all their own – they’re not the Kingston Trio, the Weavers (though they came close traditionally) when they sing songs like “Reuben Ranzo” (1964). The tunes at their time came during the folk revival era – competition was only the pop mainstream of Bobby Rydell, Bobby Vee & Frankie Avalon. The era came to an abrupt end for the more traditional folk with The Beatles who pushed it to the back of the train — until the more radical folk of Bob Dylan & Joan Baez came.

Mountain City Four

They project more nostalgic music that’s a bit dated now but it retains charm. The four perform in an ever-present polished manner, well-rehearsed & their repertoire, including what makes them quite original, French songs, chansons—all well-chosen.

It’s a comfort to see American folk music, blues & country songs interpreted & performed with such expertise by Canadian artists. But they are Americans after all – North Americans, so the music fits. Joining the group on “Need Somebody On Your Bond,” were John Knowles (guitar) & Dane Lanken (bass – Anna’s husband).

You could tell the sisters would make a splash soon on their own. And by 1974 Pete Weldon appeared also on their debut LP & “Dancer With Bruised Knees.”

Highlights – “Mean Old Frisco,” “Erev Shel Shoshanim,” “Dark As a Dungeon,” “Need Somebody On Your Bond” & “Sam Hall.”

B&W 1964 photo courtesy of Brian Merrett. Annotated insert included.

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