REVIEW: Various Artists – Four Decades Of Folk Rock

Having reviewed several Time-Life boxed sets, I’ve learned that there are some basic truths about them. First, you can always count on these guys to have access to just about every recorded piece of music in existence. You also know that they’ll work diligently to make intelligent selections from among those songs, trying their best to fit the music to the theme of the set. And finally, they’ll give you an enormous number of those tunes — as many as 200 in some sets.

So that just leaves one thing to consider when evaluating one of their sets. You need to decide if the set contains the music you want, or at least enough of it to make the purchase worthwhile. Sounds like an easy process — all you have to do is look at the list of tracks included and listen to samples, then make your decision. But Time-Life’s Four Decades Of Folk Rock, a 4-CD set now available at many outlets, makes the whole thing a little more difficult.

As of this writing, Amazon’s listing for this item incorrectly shows it as a single CD and lists only a small portion of the set’s 71 tracks — and no sample sound clips. I might add that – as near as I can tell – Time-Life’s own huge website has not yet added this item to their online catalog, so that won’t help.

But fear not. I am a full-service music critic, so I’m going to help you out a little. No, I’m not going to manually type out a full list, complete with artists — I might be full-service, but I’m not crazy. However, what I can do is direct you to Allmusic, where you’ll find a full listing for this set, complete with clips. (In fact, there’s a review too, in case you want a second opinion.)

But let’s talk about the music, rather than the process. The four CDs are organized in a way that’s logical, with one disc dedicated to each of the four decades beginning with the 1960’s, so it has that going for it. But trying to summarize four decades of any genre in a 4-CD set is difficult, and when you add in the fact that Folk-Rock is a sort of loose classification anyway, it becomes even harder.

Still, the music selection elves at Time-Life have certainly provided plenty of good stuff, and the opportunity to see how the music changes from decade to decade is fascinating. A few highlights include:

Disc one – The 1960’s: This is the disc that seems most closely tied to the Folk music side of things, but maybe that’s just me because of my memories of the era. It includes 18 tracks, with familiar tunes such as Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” and Linda Ronstadt in her Stone Poneys days with “Different Drum.” But it also has some that might surprise you a little. Examples include “That’s the Bag I’m In,” by Fred Neil, and “Morning Dew” by Tim Rose. Among the other artists included are Donovan, The Turtles, and The Band.

Disc Two – The 1970’s: Here we have a transitional period with the line between Folk and Rock blurring. Included among its 17 tracks are Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming Into Los Angeles,” Joan Baez with “Diamonds And Rust,” and James Taylor singing “Anywhere Like Heaven.” But we also have Thin Lizzy with “Whiskey In A Jar,” and The Grateful Dead with “Box Of Rain.” In addition to these and others, also around are Nick Drake and Rod Stewart, representing British interests.

Disc Three – The 1980’s: 18 tracks and a lot of them very good, while the music continues to change. Included here are a variety of sounds that feature everything from Dexys Midnight Runners doing their “Come On Eileen” to The Pogues with “A Pair Of Brown Eyes,” and Suzanne Vega’s “Luka.” Even R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs are included in the mix on this disc.

Disc Four – The 1990’s And Beyond: And finally we have the most modern of the four discs, with an 18-track assortment that includes “Drawn To The Rhythm” by Sarah McLachlan, and “Where I Go” by Natalie Merchant, but also Uncle Tupelo doing “Still Be Around” and John Hiatt’s “Shredding The Document.” Also heard from are Indigo Girls, Son Volt, and The Corrs, among others.

Bottom line — there’s no doubt that it’s a great bunch of songs, but there is a lot of variety spread across four decades, so what I said earlier about deciding for yourself still applies. Go to the link above, look over the list, and listen to some clips — I’m guessing you’ll like what you see and hear.

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