It's probably obvious by now to anyone who has visited the Cave more than once that I pick up some relatively random records relatively often. The reason to keep trying out now-passe or never-popular albums is that sometimes a gem is unearthed. After a couple spins, I don't know that I'd call The Little Sisters lone LP a forgotten classic quite yet, but it has a unique charm all its own that was somewhat along the lines of what I was hoping for when I rescued it from a rummage sale rejects box a few weeks ago.
This one intrigued me first due to the front cover, a distinctive black and white photo of the artists (unusual for the MGM label) with a bit of color injected via the titling. Flipping it over revealed liner notes by Johnny Carson, from very early in his Tonight Show run. The song titles indicated this was a folk boom album, which wasn't quite what I was expecting from the front cover; weirder still, it's a folk album arranged by "Supersonic Guitars" man Billy Mure (?) and produced by jazz-associated Creed Taylor (??).
That odd combination worked in this case. The album is definitely in the pop-folk vein, with a musical combo including drums behind the singers for some of the songs. While Mure's re-arrangements of folk standards probably wouldn't have pleased any strict purists who happened onto the album, his treatments usually hew to the songs' basics relatively well without being over-orchestrated; there are no gloppy strings messing things up. The Little Sisters takes on these songs are also usually surprisingly uptempo. Nearly everything is two minutes or less; even the album's "slowest" song, the haunting ballad "Where Does it Lead," clocks in at 2:18.
According to Carson's notes, The Little Sisters are actually sisters (Little was their last name) who were living in Greenwich Village at the time. The notes discuss how they had collected the songs on the album while traveling around on a sort of barnstorming tour performing wherever they could in the years before the album came out. I would think that was a suspect statement if not for the way the two sisters harmonize, which does have that hill country close harmony twang -- not quite off-key but whangy all the same, sounding sort of like The Poni-Tails after a bottle of moonshine. That vocal sound does make for an interesting combination with the slick studio cat backing provided by Mure, who also claimed the publishing credit for his arrangements on a good portion of the album's traditional numbers.
There's not much information about the record online. The most interesting material I found was a Culture Catch blog post by Robert Cochrane, another writer intrigued by the record; in the comments section, Patricia Little responds to the review with some anecdotes about the sisters' days in the New York folk scene. (MGM, 1963)