With a recent pair of reissues, Sony Music/Legacy Recordings has transported listeners to Greenwich Village at the dawn of the 1960s, when guitar-wielding troubadours took the stages at venues like Café Wha? to share their own “alternative” music: folk. While Connie Francis, Brian Hyland, Elvis Presley, and even Percy Faith were ascending to the top of the Pop chart, folksingers were spinning their own musical yarns that didn’t involve teenage romance or itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polkadot bikinis. Two such artists were Art and Paul – no, not that Art and Paul, but rather Messrs. Podell and Potash, signed to Columbia Records roughly three years before those other guys with the same first names. Legacy has reissued Art and Paul’s two Columbia long-players, Songs of Earth and Sky (1960) and Hangin’, Drinkin’ and Stuff (1961) to digital service providers (streaming and download) for the first time. Recorded at Columbia’s 30th Street studio with renowned engineers Frank Laico and Roy Halee, these stereo albums are intimate, immediate time capsules back to this long-gone era.
Songs of Earth and Sky, on which guitarist-vocalist Podell and vocalist Potash were joined by guitarist Dick Rosmini, introduced the duo’s tight, haunting vocal blend on an array of traditional folk songs, adaptations, and similarly styled originals. The original LP liner notes described their quest to find “unusual songs that lend themselves to dramatic arrangements,” and by all counts, they succeeded on that quest. Their bold, theatrical style is evident on H.R. Weaver’s stirring, uptempo “Ox Driving Song” or Argentinian composer Rafael Rossi’s Spanish-language spiritual “Viva Jujuy,” as well as on quieter but no less persuasive material like the lullaby “All the Pretty Little Horses.” Huddy Ledbetter’s work song “Pick a Bale o’ Cotton” was Art and Paul’s first joint arrangement; they perfected their brisk, tongue-twisting take before their New York debut at Café Bohemian and preserved it for posterity on the LP. Ledbetter’s “Whoa Back, Buck” is also included. Their humorous side is showcased on their adaptation of “There’s a Hole in the Bucket, Mariah,” which became a favorite of Noel Paul Stookey. Bob Gibson appeared to be an influence on Songs of Earth and Sky; Art and Paul reinterpreted his version of the English ballad “John Riley” and the buoyant “Joy, Joy, Joy” as well as “All My Trials” which Gibson performed on his 1956 debut Offbeat Folksongs.
Art and Paul’s 1961 sophomore LP Hangin’, Drinkin’ and Stuff arrived a little over a year later on Columbia. The Hangin’ of the title was represented by “The Hangman” and the Drinkin’ by “Moonshiner” and “Kilgarry Mountain (Darlin’ Sportin’ Jenny),” sometimes known as “Whiskey in the Jar.” But most of the album was devoted to Stuff including the energetic Latin opener “Lace Maker of Villa Bella.” The album’s cover revealed that banjos would be a part of Art and Paul’s sound this time around, and they ring out on tracks like “Kilgarry Mountain,” Woody Guthrie’s “The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done,” and the sprightly paean to a certain “Devilish Mary.” A popular folk tune at the time, the latter was sung onstage by young talents including Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia. Both it and the Guthrie tune injected levity into the proceedings. Columbia’s own Frankie Laine had recorded the rousing ballad “The Girl in the Wood,” co-written by folksinger and future “Bare Necessities” writer Terry Gilkyson, more than a decade earlier.
Art and Paul further expanded their sound with brass and classical harp on the ruminative “Song of Time” and the urgent percussion on “King Uzziah (Vayiven),” sung in Hebrew. Art’s classical guitar can be heard on “Tres Moricas,” sung in Spanish. They also paid tribute to their contemporary Peter Yarrow with a direct, emotionally piercing rendition of his “The Cruel War Is Raging.” Columbia must have been pleased that the duo chose to cover a song of much more contemporary vintage, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1959 showtune (and not yet associated with the holidays) “My Favorite Things.” Columbia held the cast album rights to The Sound of Music and promoted its score to the label’s artists. Art and Paul’s adventurous acoustic treatment was said to be original Sound of Music star Theodore Bikel’s favorite recording of the song. It’s one of many tracks here worthy of rediscovery from a wider audience.
Despite the strength of both platters, Art and Paul never recorded a third album for Columbia. Yet they left behind a small but potent body of work. They were committed to traditional folk; when the label’s powerful head of Pop A&R, Mitch Miller, offered them Gary Geld and Peter Udell’s “Sealed with a Kiss,” they rejected it as it wasn’t a proper folk song. It became a top 5 single for Brian Hyland. Art Podell went on to further successes, most notably as an original member and creative force behind The New Christy Minstrels; he’s still writing and recording today. Paul Potash, too, continued performing and songwriting.
Art and Paul are well remembered today by luminaries like Noel Paul Stookey, Peter Yarrow, Van Dyke Parks, David Crosby, The Smothers Brothers, and Mason Williams. Now you, too, can enjoy their dynamic brand of folk for the first time in nearly 60 years. Both Songs of Earth and Sky and Hangin’, Drinkin’, and Stuff are available now from all digital service providers.
Art and Paul, Songs of Earth and Sky (Columbia CS 8289, 1960 – reissued Sony/Legacy, 2019) (Amazon U.S.)
- All the Pretty Little Horses
- Ox Driving Song (Tim-a Ride-ee-ay)
- Gently Johnny, My Jingle-Oh
- All My Trials
- Viva Jujuy
- Wish I Didn’t Miss Her So
- Pick a Bale o’ Cotton
- Little Poo
- There’s a Hole in the Bucket, Mariah
- Whoa Back, Buck
- John Riley
- Joy, Joy, Joy
Art and Paul, Hangin’, Drinkin’, and Stuff (Columbia CS 8502, 1961 – reissued Sony/Legacy, 1961) (Amazon U.S.)
- Lace Maker of Villa Bella
- Kilgarry Mountain (Darlin’ Sportin’ Jenny)
- Devilish Mary
- Song of Time
- The Girl in the Wood
- The Cruel War Is Raging
- King Uzziah (Vayiven)
- The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done
- My Favorite Things
- The Hangman
- Tres Moricas