The lights went on for The Brothers Four a way back in 1956 when John Paine, Mike Kirkland, Dick Foley, and Bob Flick were students at the University of Washington. They were a folk group who gained popularity in the early folk-revival movement. They began by playing frat parties and local clubs for beer money but by 1960 they were signed to the Columbia label for whom their single release “Greenfields” reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Brothers Four released 19 albums, 1960-1970. Real Gone Music has now reissued their 1966 holiday album Merry Christmas. It arrives with a remastered sound and four bonus tracks, which were originally singles.
They were at heart a fairly traditional folk group. Their harmonies may have made them a little slicker and smoother than the norm but their material consistently explored folk traditions. They were regulars on the college circuit during the early 1960’s and that helped them develop an intimate approach to their music, which comes across on their recordings.
They released their only Christmas album in 1966. It is an album of very recognizable Christmas songs presented in a laid back style. Tracks such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Away In A Manger,” “Silent Night,” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” flow along and form a nice background of easy listening music.
The West Indian Carol “The Borning Day,” and “Mary’s Little Boy Child” travel in a different direction as the rhythms are outside of traditional American folk music.
The bonus tracks were released in 1961 and 1964. “What Child Is This (Greensleeves)” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain” are nice counterpoints to much of what is on the album and are welcome.
Merry Christmas is not an adventurous release as the Brothers Four take few chances. It also sounds somewhat dated today as their brand of folk music is out 0f vogue. Still, taken on its own terms, it is a pleasant listen that looks back to a bygone era.