Review: Noel Paul Stookey Shares Music and Messaging

Noel Paul Stookey/Just Causes/Neworld Multimedia
Four out of Five Stars

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It would be all but impossible to overestimate the impact and influence of Noel Paul Stookey, not only on the entire spectrum of folk music overall, but also on the role he played in transforming the nation’s social conscience as well. Beginning in the early 1960s with the essential part he played in America’s most iconic early trio, Peter Paul and Mary, and continuing into the 21st century with his efforts as both an artist and an activist, Stookey has never abandoned his commitment to causes that remain vital to the very essence of the American experience.

It’s no surprise, then, that Stookey’s latest album not only takes the title Just Causes, but also shares songs that bring each of its continuing concerns to the fore. A collection of songs that span the last 50 years of his career, it finds his commitment to those causes going several steps further by tying each of the album’s offering to an appropriate charity and ensuring that all profits from the album sales are given to those organizations so that their efforts can continue. 

Stookey’s strategy is nothing new. He continues to donate all the royalties from his seminal composition “Wedding Song (There Is Love)” to the Public Domain Foundation, which then funnels those funds to a variety of charitable institutions. Still, it’s rare to find such generosity at work, given that each of the 15 songs in the set—mostly studio recordings, but some live tracks as well—address a different concern, from nuclear proliferation and environmental issues to reproductive rights, immigration reform, down syndrome, and the need to address protection for indigenous people. It’s a worthy effort to be sure, and more than enough on to warrant attention, even before its first notes are heard.

Stookey never comes across as if he’s preaching or pontificating. True to form, practically every song benefits from an amiable and agreeable approach that’s engaged in both sincerity and sentiment. The earnest entreaty shared with “In These Times,” the doting discourse of “Not That Kind of Music,” the gentle sway of “Familia Del Corazon,” and the delicate delivery of “All My Life,” not only ring with resolve, but caress and comfort as well. There’s the ease and assurance one would expect from an artist whose status as an elder statesman likens him to a father figure, a ratified distinction that few artists are privileged to attain.

With that in mind, Stookey’s nuanced approach finds a special connection via his reverent read of “America the Beautiful,” where he expands—and expounds— on the original by adding some meaningful lyrics of his own. Credit this revered musical master with reminding us all that beauty, does indeed, emanate from within.

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