THE HARD Travelers folk band was founded in 1962 by four University of Maryland fraternity brothers who wanted to imitate their heroes in the Kingston Trio. The quartet was active on the D.C. coffeehouse scene for a couple years and released a single before choosing professional careers over music. It wasn't until 1985 that the Hard Travelers staged a reunion; it was so successful that they picked up where they had left off 20 years earlier.
Their debut album, "Sailin' on a Second Wind," was released 28 years after their first gig, but it features both the strengths and limitations of the early '60s collegiate folk revival. The strengths include the polished four-part harmonies and the genuine warmth they bring to songs about friendship, growing old, history and our local waterways. The limitations stem from the middle-of-the-road softness they've inherited from their original heroes, the Kingston Trio, and their current heroes, Schooner Fare.
One of the more appealing aspects of "Sailin' on a Second Wind" is its emphasis on contemporary songs by the likes of "Hobo Jim" Varsos, Fred Koller and Red Grammar. Buddy Renfro, the Hard Travelers' baritone singer, produced the album and wrote four of the songs, including "Only the Ashes Are Left," the flip side of the group's original single. That song has been recycled into the album's climactic seven-and-a-half-minute "Civil War Medley," which makes a nice addition to the best-selling "Civil War" TV soundtrack.
The album also includes two tributes to our local waters: Renfro's "Chesapeake" and Pete Kennedy's "Rappahannock." The Hard Travelers' version of "Chesapeake" and Kennedy's original version of "Rappahannock" are both featured on "Bay Folk," an album of tributes to the endangered estuary by a dozen different folk acts. Highlights include Fred Koller and Tom Paxton's pointed "When It's Gone It's Gone"; Mary-Chapin Carpenter's lively "Down in Mary's Land" and Magpie's rousing "This Ol' Bay." Also represented are Schooner Fare, David Mallet, Tom Wisner and others.
THE HARD TRAVELERS -- "Sailin' on a Second Wind" (Noteworthy Productions).
VARIOUS ARTISTS -- "Bay Folk: Musical Reflections on the Chesapeake Bay" (Chesapeake Bay Trust). The Hard Travelers appear Sunday at the Birchmere.