PETER, PAUL & MARY

"Carry It On"

Rhino

"In These Times"

Rhino

Has it really been four decades since Peter, Paul & Mary's eponymous debut on Warner Bros. Records? Since their version of Pete Seeger's "If I Had a Hammer" became a populist anthem of the civil rights movement? Since "Blowin' in the Wind" alerted folks to a new writer named Bob Dylan? Since "Puff, the Magic Dragon" sparked Howard Stern-like controversy on the airwaves over implausible drug references?

The long-lived trio's enduring commitment to good songs and to championing progressive causes through the power of music is front and center on "Carry It On," a four-CD, one-DVD retrospective, and "In These Times," a new album that sounds pretty much like old times. Literally so, thanks to those familiar three-part harmonies (now a little darker and rougher), simple, uncluttered arrangements and even several venerable backing musicians of yester-decades, bassist Richard Kniss and guitarist Paul Prestopino.

In those times -- particularly the '60s -- Peter, Paul & Mary were the most successful group in a folk genre at the peak of its popularity, impact and influence. Eight of the songs on the box set's first disc come from the trio's self-titled debut, six more from each of their 1963 albums, "Moving" and "In the Wind." Along the way, they recast folk ballads and children's songs and were often the first to champion important new songwriters, most famously Dylan, but also Laura Nyro ("And When I Die"), John Denver ("Leaving on a Jet Plane"), Gordon Lightfoot ("Early Morning Rain") and Tom Paxton ("The Last Thing on My Mind"). The hootenanny/campfire singalongs are all here, as well as the rich catalogue of cause-oriented anthems that made Peter, Paul & Mary protest perennials, from early covers of "The Times They Are A-Changin' " and "Conscientious Objector (I Shall Die)" to "The Great Mandela," "El Salvador" and "No Easy Walk to Freedom."

The third and fourth discs cover the somewhat less rewarding post-'60s decades, which include being apart from 1970 to 1978, when Peter, Paul and Mary reunited for Peter Yarrow's organized Survival Sunday, an anti-nuclear benefit at the Hollywood Bowl.

Along with generous helpings of rarities, B-sides and previously unreleased songs, "Carry It On" contains four (somewhat hard to find) "pre-bonus" tracks from before Peter, Paul & Mary were signed. The most interesting are Noel Stookey and his semi-rock band, the Corsairs, in a 1956 home recording, and the not-yet-officially formed trio's 1960 run-through of "Canaan Land" in Stookey's apartment. Also interesting are the opening tracks on the DVD: "If I Had a Hammer" performed at the 1963 March on Washington and a 1969 Cellar Door rendition of "Leaving on a Jet Plane" with a still little-known Denver aboard.

The DVD ends with a rehearsal of "Have You Been to Jail for Justice?", one of the songs on "In These Times," Peter, Paul & Mary's first new studio album in almost a decade. The times haven't been a-changing that much, apparently: The new album opens with a spirited medley of five union tunes, and offers such protest songs as "Don't Laugh at Me" and "Invisible People." It also features a Seeger standard, "How Can I Keep From Singing?", and a familiar folk song, "Wayfaring Stranger," while showcasing several promising new writers. The standout here is Thea Hopkins, whose "Jesus on a Wire" movingly eulogizes murdered gay student Matthew Shepard. "In These Times" finds Peter, Paul & Mary revisiting their political and musical roots -- carrying it on in familiar style.

-- Richard Harrington

Appearing Friday and Saturday at Wolf Trap. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Peter, Paul & Mary's "Carry It On," call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8130; to hear "In These Times," press 8131. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)

A box set provides a good look back at Peter, Paul & Mary while a new CD bodes well for the future.