Music Review: Holly Near, Arlo Guthrie, Ronnie Gilbert, and Pete Seeger’s ‘HARP: A Time to Sing’

HARP--A Time to Sing!

Recorded in 1984 and originally released the following year, this concert album unites four longtime friends from two eras: Holly Near and Arlo Guthrie from the sixties generation and ex-Weavers Ronnie Gilbert and Pete Seeger from their parents’ generation. HARP combines the first letters of their four names.

This double-CD re-release certainly has its moments, some of which are among the 13 songs that have been added to the original recording. Among the best tracks are Seeger-led renditions of “Wimoweh” and “Guantanamera” and Guthrie’s readings of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans.” Some of the between-song storytelling—such as Guthrie’s tale of how he first heard the Goodman composition—is also worth hearing.

Its high spirits, abundant talent, and strong moments notwithstanding, however, A Time to Sing never quite takes off. Like most albums with lengthy spoken bits, this one will have listeners hitting the fast-forward button during its frequent monologues after a few plays. Listeners may want to hit the same button during some of the topical material here, some of which seems lyrically dated and musically thin. It’s also disappointing that little collaboration seems apparent. Instead of an album from a real quartet, much of this sounds like a sampler of tracks from four solo CDs.

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