I have to think that the only reason this group didn’t make it bigger is because they were integrated. They sound quite a bit like other folk popularizers, with the exception of Eric Weissberg's fantastic banjo work. His playing is just about beyond anyone else in commercial folk music at the time. Also, their vocal harmonies are far more complex than other similar groups.
For example, on the opening track, “Swing Down,” the group blends beautifully with an arrangement somewhere between barbershop and gospel.
Their on-stage patter can be just as corny as another pop folk group (there may be a few exceptions).
The anecdote that Marshall Brickman tells before their sea shanty reveals the disconnect between the fascination with historical material during the folk revival and how this may seem quant and twee in this modern life. In the anecdote, Carey talks about sailing on a fishing vessel and shout singing rigging commands to the crew. "Hoist that line!" To which, the crew responds (in a Portuguese accent), “Why are you hollerin’? Start the engine and let’s go home.”
Their rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty” sounds like a cowboy movie sound track, and not in a good way. Here the more complex vocal arrangements work against the song. While it gives depth to a gospel-adjacent arrangement, in this case it detracts from the starkness of the message. I don’t think anyone can touch the Cisco Houston version of this song. God, I love Cisco.
Brickman again takes the mic to tell the wholly invented story of the invention of the banjo. It’s a tale of an undaunted (“nary a daunt") inventor named Irving. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that interest in the banjo really takes off, so the story goes. Eric Weissberg then shows off his bluegrass picking technique. And I do mean show off. It’s an opportunity for his to display his chops, and he nails it.
The final two sing-along numbers are perfectly pitched. They elevate “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream,” the anti-war song, to a fever pitch just to bring it back down again to punctuate the simplicity of the lyrics.
The final gospel song is a real barn burner. The audience tries to clap along, bless them, but they just can’t seem to get on the groove. The group is unphased and they bring the heat to close out the show. The audience is left shouting for more.
While this group sounds quite a bit like other folk popularizers at times, they have a greater range. Weissberg’s work on the banjo, and the complex harmonies (while sometimes they fight the material) are at least interesting and diverse. Some of these popular folk groups would use and re-use the same vocal arrangements over and over. The Tarriers were clearly invested in trying something, even if it doesn’t always work.
Title: At “The Bitter End”
Artist: The Tarriers
Label: Decca DL 4342
Vocals, Acoustic Bass – Marshall Brickman
Vocals, Acoustic Guitar – Bob Carey, Clarence Cooper
Vocals, Banjo – Eric Weissberg