The Mugwumps,
The Mugwumps
(Collector's Choice, 2007)

The Mugwumps were a sort of supergroup back before the members got super. Jim Hendricks and then-wife Cass Eliot came from the folk group the Big Three, while Zal Yanofsky and Denny Doherty had served time in the Halifax Three, a Canadian folk group. These folks, though, would become famous in other groups -- Yanofsky as the lead guitarist in the Lovin' Spoonful while Doherty and Eliot, of course, wound up in the Mamas & the Papas.

The nine songs on this 22-minute CD represent virtually everything recorded by Mugwumps; this single CD is the legacy of the band. In the liner notes, the musicians are quoted as saying how great the band was. Doherty claims they went electric a year before Bob Dylan, while Eliot told Johnny Carson that the Mugwumps had been the first folk-rock group.

Impressive credentials and bold statements aside, the Mugwumps never really connected with the public -- Eliot said their performances were greeted with stunned silence and chalks up that reaction to the fact that they were so far ahead of the audiences at the time: "We were doing very sophisticated folksy stuff, but obviously 1964 wasn't the year for it."

Her assessment might be on the money, but I can raise another couple of possibilities: one, the band never really found its sound. Three of the nine songs are 1950s' oldies, which could cause audience members to wonder what "So Fine" and the Coasters' hit "Searching" have to do with folk music. The other songs might have sophisticated arrangements, but they're just not great songs to begin with. The members could sing but they could neither write nor choose good material.

Which raises the second possible explanation for their lack of commercial success; they may not have been very good. All went on to join better bands and make better music, so maybe the Mugwumps was just apprentice work on the way to later mastery.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

14 June 2008

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