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100 Albums: "Today" by The New Christy Minstrels


Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: The New Christy Minstrels
Title: Today
Released: 1964
Genre: ensemble folk



This was an album I listened to over and over again on car trips growing up. It was fifteen hours in the van from our house to my grandparents', so we had a lot of time to burn. This was one of a number of records that my dad had on vinyl and had put on tape, and this was on a tape of folk songs alongside the Kingston Trio. The New Christy Minstrels were part of the early 60's folk revival that would be obliterated when Bob Dylan hit the scene. They took their name from Christy's Minstrels, an old literally-a-minstrel act that performed in blackface (that's just Christy's Minstrels--NCM didn't do that, although taking a name from a group that did is a little... icky). The racial undercurrents of the album are interesting. It was released the same year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation, and it has a few appeals to Southern Pride, despite being an act founded by a Kansan and part of a musical movement that was mostly active in New York City and the West Coast. There's nothing overtly racist, but songs like Charleston Town and Company Of Cowards subtly but clearly make supportive reference to the Confederacy.

All that aside, when you focus solely on the music... it's pretty good. It has some impressive ensemble performances with energy and panache. In the chorus of Whistlin' Dixie the exact placement of the final word "South" moves around, making it tricky to sing along with unless you have it consciously memorized. There's a choreography to the music, with individual or small groups of singers picking up single lines and then handing the song off to the next vocalist. There's a spirit of fun to the whole affair. This Ol' Riverboat spins a yarn about steamboats racing to get to the next town to pick up shipments of cotton and running aground in the river. Songs are reprised and preprised. The title track is a crooning ballad that finishes off the record, but there's a lyric-less version called Love Theme that shows up early. Raucous opener Company Of Cowards is reprised later on with the Company Q Whistling March. There are a couple of oddball instrumentals, like a song called Ladies that is played mostly on kazoo, or a lurching dulcimer piece called Brackenby's Music Box.

It's something of a time capsule. My emotions are mixed about it now, but you can't help but admire the work and talent that went into making it. If you want to see some of the non-Dylan, non-Kingston-Trio strains of the 60s folk revival, it's worth checking out.

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