The Joys of Wonderful, Obscure Folk Music Finds

littlesistersThe Little Sisters: The Joys of Love (MGM, 1963)

Some album covers can intimate to a vinyl junky too rewarding and intoxicating a hit. Imagine a pair of blonde girls a la Edie Sedgwick -- beautifully and perfectly shot in black and white -- with lazily dressed blonde hair. The one in the background is laughing, whilst the other looks dreamily skywards. Both appear timelessly and unbearably chic. It can only be hoped that such a delightful promise can deliver even a fraction of its beatnik suggestion.

The liner notes by the legendary Johnny Carson -- they appeared three times on his show in 1962 -- beguiling reveal:

"The Little Sisters are actually sisters. Mary is 22 and Patty is 21. Each girl is married; Mary to a poet who speaks only Spanish (she speaks only English) and Patty is an artist. They live in Greenwich Village, New York City, a gathering place for artists, poets, and folk singers, as well as writers, sculptors, and musicians. A casual stroller through the haphazard streets of the Village might see the girls bustling about in the course of their daily routine. They usually wear plaid leotards, beige car coats and beanies -- one red and one green, but which one wears which one is a point I haven't yet pursued. Their father is a cartoonist. Their grandmother was a vaudeville artist."

Forty-three years later in an English Record Fair, all that sounded too good to sound any good, but the sleeve was worth more than the dump bin price of a pound. Sometimes things turn out far better than one could hope. What emerged was a stunning record of remarkable brevity and freshness. The longest track is 2 minutes 18 seconds; the shortest 1 minute 30 seconds, whilst the entire affair lasts a mere 24 minutes. These little sisters understood the dictum that less is better.

The Joys of Love is a remarkably assured debut. It has elements of Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Emmylou Harris, and Nanci Griffiths, but possesses a knowing maturity that one would expect an album from this time to contain. Imagine the theme from "Dueling Banjos" mixed with Francoise Hardy, filmed by David Lynch. But then again, it was produced by Creed Taylor, the found of CTI Records, and engineered by Phil Ramone. There is a strange mix of enthusiastic innocence and artful experience. Greenwich Village 1963 collides with a Kentucky Barn Dance from a hundred years earlier, but surreal isn't one of the many words such a time-warp proposition conjures up.

According to Carson's liner essay, the girls decided to go on the road in their own adventurous and endearingly eclectic way:

"They wrote letters to towns they planned to visit, and took whatever engagements at whatever prices were available. As a result they sang in homes for old folks, in schools and auditoriums and classrooms, in tiny clubs, and, on occasion didn't sing at all. To support their travels they took side jobs when they had to. They have been waitresses, shop clerks, and car hops in the cities and towns of the East and South. Much of the music included on this album, their first, was collected first-hand on their travels. The songs aren't "discoveries," of course, but they are authentic because the girls learned a lot of them from their friends in Kentucky and Virginia and the Carolinas."

This record is their record of an American sojourn. Appalachian melodies and banjo picking of extraordinary freshness results in a strange slice of American folk music imbued with an air of Greenwich Village worldliness. It seems to be their only long player -- a postcard from the past, which makes you wish you could have been there.

It is all too romantic to thinking of these two striking young women continuing to stagger gracefully around Greenwich Village in aging splendor, a pair of Bohemian Beatnik Baby Janes who occasionally burst into song to startle the young.

Songs such as "Cuckoo," "The Joys of Love," and "Black Girl" have such a vitality about them, it is surprising that this album rests so far below the radar of those who value the work of exceptional quality. Ripe for sampling, the record has a sweetness that is never cloying, but is far from tongue-in-cheek. A stimulating experience resides in such sophisticated simplicity.

Do yourself a favor and get searching. Probably grandmothers by now, these sisters should sing again, and this record deserves to be heard. There is an enthusiastic air of beginning from this that now reeks of unfinished business. Two albums in over forty years wouldn't exactly be overstating one's talent, and Mary may have finally learnt how to speak Spanish, and if she hasn't, at least that would be another story. - Robert Cochrane

cochrane.jpg

Mr. Cochrane is a poet and writer living in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in Mojo, Attitude, and Dazed & Confused. He has published three collections of poems, and is presently completing Gone Tomorrow, a biography of the rock singer Jobriath, which will appear via SAF in 2007.

Little Sisters LP

today March 13 2011 I am regrettably putting a Near Mint Copy in Stereo of this record up for a 7 auction on ebay #120697663161

Eureka!

Mr. Cochrane, thanks for writing such a great review on such a deserving band and satisfying a curiosity I've had for the past seven years. It's good to finally know more about The Little Sisters and that a full LP exists somewhere. About seven years ago, I went through one of my friends' collection of old 45s and found The Little Sisters "Where Does It Lead"/ "Going to Boston" single. I was immediately struck by how beautiful their harmonies were. They reminded me of another obscure, beautifully voiced duo of that era, The Kossoy Sisters, who I'd also recently stumbled across. So, I made a copy of the record on cassette. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any info about the group online at the time. For some reason, today one of the songs popped into my head, so I did a search and found this blog. It's wonderful to be able to read the original liner notes and all of these great anecdotes about the duo. I will have to keep my eyes out for the "Joys of Love" LP. Pat, I hope you are still out there singing!

The Joys of Love LP

HI
I ve just red your article and I have a stereo copy of the lp in Good Condition.
Just thought Id let you know...

LP Joy

Thankfully a friend burned a copy for me. It's a wonderful LP.

The Little Sisters and Going TO Boston

I I used to tape record all the 60's hits and accidentally erased Going To Boston, and I finally 38 years later paid $20 and got the single which also has The Joys Of Love on the flip side. Going to Boston has always been one of my favorite songs, and I slmost bought the album on E-Bay, but I was too late. Anyway, I love nostalgia, and always remembered Going to Boston. I think that it should be brought back as a single and go from there. A little spark goes a long way from a Little Sister. Fred

Beautiful Record

The Little Sisters "The Joys of Love" is absolutely beautiful. So unbelievably fresh, vibrant and new - yet somehow part of a time with different comforts and fears. I have many records from this era and this is without doubt my favorite folk record and one of my favorite records of all.

In terms of the pressing it's a fantastic mono pressing, an amazing sounding record. In fact the sound quality is at that special level that is less common on stereo recordings and impossible to get on the nicely convenient digital formats. However, to get this sound I always use specialist mono cartridges which are designed to play old mono records which are cut differently to the more complicated and problematic stereo LP's.

Jamie, is your record a mono pressing? My other mono MGM records don't play well on a stereo cartridge, they tend to distort on the high frequencies -- female vocals, banjo, horn stabs, cymbals and the like. Tonight I tried the little sisters record on a stereo cartridge and a lot of the beautiful high frequency detail is distorted and lost. If your record is a mono pressing then it may sound a bit strange on your stereo cartridge. If it's a stereo version then I don't know unless it dirty?

However, even if the sound quality of my record was terrible it wouldn't really matter as it's the music and the feeling that it brings that's perfect to me. Thanks to Pat and her sister for making the music all those years ago.

I knew Mary Little forty years ago

I knew Mary Little some forty years ago when she lived in Inwood with her husband and three beautiful children, Becky, Monique and Jean-Paul. She was a wonderful person who taught me to play the guitar when I was about thirteen years old. I met her in the playground where she would sit with her children and would often bring her guitar to play. The last time I saw her was about 1971 and I have thought about her often over the years. I am so sorry to hear about her passing. She was an artist as well and drew clever sketches of her children. She gave me a copy of the album. We were friends -- she came with her family for dinner and she even came to my sweet sixteen party. I have never forgotten her kindness and beautiful persona. Her teaching me the guitar helped me to get into a special high school for which I am ever grateful to her.

'The Joys of Love'

I enjoyed reading your review - I had a similar experience to yours today, I picked up this album for just £1 at my favourite record shop (which isn't usually quite so generous, it must be said! The proprietor raised his eyebrows when I went to pay), and it's absolutely wonderful. It was one of those serendipitous finds, as it was literally the last thing I flicked through before going to catch a train - I bought it impulsively due to the cover and its price, barely had enough time to pay! My copy is American, and I'm wondering whether it's pressed a little poorly - I have to adjust the pitch a little lower to get it to sound right.

I am Pat Little from the Little Sisters.

Dear Robert,
Thank you so much for your beautiful and kind words about our album. I'm Pat, the one laughing on the cover. I did the harmony.
After all this time has passed, it touches my heart that you liked our songs. "Cuckoo" and "Black Girl" are my favorites too. And I always liked "House of the Rising Sun". We sang that alot in coffee houses and clubs around The Village, also in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. One of our songs was banned from the radio for being too sad. It was a song called, "Go Tell Aunt Betsy" ( The ol gray goose is dead ). It was a song our Grandma used to sing to us when we were small children. The actor/ folk singer, Theodore Bitel broadcast a radio show from his Gramacy Park Apt. every Sunday night. He used to play our songs. When he played "Go Tell Aunt Betsy", The Radio Commission said it was too sad. The song "Gloomy Sunday" had people jumping out of windows during the Depression. They were concerned it would do the same. We were very surpised. When we started out in The Village our favorite coffee houses were: Folk City (Bob Dylan's favorite), The Bitter End, The Fat Black Cat, and Charlie's Cafe. At Charlie's we were singing waitresses. The coffee houses had a "Hootnanny" every Monday night. Folk singers, musicians, poets and comedians would get up on stage to perform their material, then pass a hat around for tips. We didn't get a salary, we just worked for tips. It was a hard time, but exciting. At the end of the night we would all jam together, sometimes for hours. 12 string guitars, banjos, flutes, fiddles and drums. We had the great pleasure of meeting Bob Dylan, Ramblin Jack Elliot, Tom Paxton, Dave Van Ronk, The Clancy Brothers (from Ireland), Theodore Bikel (from Israel), Dino Valente, Rosemary Clooney, Dorothy Danridge, and of course Johnny Carson. He was a really lovely man. Thanks again Robert and Dusty. I'll look forward to reading your book Robert, "Gone Tomorrow". I am a Grandma now, with two fine Grandchildren.
Yours Truly, Pat Little

Hello Pat

Hello Pat

Hope your doing great!

Im the son of the ex husband of Mary. Is a pleasure talk to you, my dad told me about you. He will love to talk to you after all this year. If you want you can send me an Email to:
luis.gonell@evusa.com

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