Between roughly 1958 and 1964, Bud and Travis recorded eight full-length albums (see Discography) for the Liberty label--which, unfortunately, no longer exists. (The "current" Liberty label, for which Garth Brooks records, is to my knowledge unrelated to the one from the folk era.) These records--out of print, difficult to find, and often expensive--are indeed a testament to the musicality and versatility of this great duo. While often labelled in their day as exclusively a "folk" group, Bud and Travis in many ways defied categorization by playing and mastering musical forms as diverse as calypso ("Myra,"), blues ("How Long, How Long Blues"), show tunes ("They Call The Wind Mariah"), and songs that seem to fit no preexisting label ("Golden Apples of the Sun," an adaption of the William Butler Yeats poem "Song of the Wandering Aengus").
However, Bud and Travis were and are most known for one musical form above all others: the bolero, a kind of Latin-American folk song. In recent years, a heavily orchestrated version of this genre was popularized by Linda Rondstadt on her fine Grammy-winning album Canciones De Mi Padre. The Latin-American music on Bud and Travis albums, however, is "stripped down"--two voices, two acoustic classical guitars, a guitarron, and ocassionally some light percussion. The results are fabulous. The duo's classical guitar playing is on a par with the finest players in any genre; their singing is achingly passionate, almost operatic; and the overall arrangements are tasteful and never unnecessarily decorative.
Each Bud and Travis studio album contains at least four or five Latin-American songs, and The Bud and Travis Latin Album--the duo's unqualified masterpiece-- is a full collection of Spanish-language material. I cannot recommend this record highly enough. It is Bud and Travis's Sgt. Pepper: a record that both exemplified the talents of the group and set new standards of musical and artistic excellence in folk music. It is, arguably, the finest record to emerge from the late 50s, early 60s folk movement, and certainly a recording that holds its own against any popular album made since.
Not that the other records are chopped liver. Bud and Travis, the debut, ranks an extremely close second to The Latin Album as a folk masterwork. Of course, the Latin numbers are stunning: "Florecita De Mi Cielo," "Rayito De Luna," "Vamos Al Baile," and the debut of what would become the duo's signature Spanish-language piece, "Malaguena Salerosa." But the breadth of material covered only starts with the boleros. "Bonsoir Dame," a re-worked Haitian folk song, would become a concert favorite; the charming calypso of "She Never Loved Me" rivals anything in the Belafonte catalogue; and Broadway is represented by great versions of "Mariah" and "South Wind." Perhaps the finest song, however, is the Edmonson original, "Truly Do," a gorgeous love song of the sort simply not written anymore. If you're a fan of the television show Northern Exposure, you may have heard this song in the background in a lot of episodes.
Spotlight On Bud and Travis is perhaps their most dated studio effort, though certainly an excellent album. "Cloudy Summer Afternoon," an Edmonson original and the only Bud and Travis song to crack the American Top 30, debuted on this album. "Wagoner's Lad," another American folk classic, displayed the boys' guitar work at it finest. "Sinner Man," "Poor Boy," and the other American songs on Spotlight are quite good but perhaps too similar in sound to the Kingston Trio--a fine group, but one usually having a sound quite distinct from Bud and Travis. Needless to say, the Spanish numbers on Spotlight--of which there aren't nearly enough--save the day. In fact, "Cielito Lindo Son Huasteco" is arguably the most beautiful serenata in the entire Bud and Travis catalogue.
Perspective On Bud and Travis and Naturally succeed where Spotlight stumbled: that is, in presenting American folk songs without sounding derivative of other groups. Tracks like "Two Brothers," "Abilene," "Joey, Joey," and "Red Clay Country" are as American as songs get, yet they retain that inimitable and somewhat intangible Bud and Travis "flair." Other standouts from these two great records are "Maria Christina," "Sabras Que Te Quiero," and "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" (yes, the Bob Dylan tune!) from Perspective, and "Summertime Love," "Haiti," and "Golden Apples Of The Sun" from Naturally.
The three concert albums are outstanding. They include many essential songs that aren't on the studio records: "Guess I'll Go Home," "La Vaquilla Colorada" and the touching "Carmen Carmella," (among many others) from In Concert; "The Clock" and "Every Night When The Sun Goes In" (among others) from In Concert, Part 2; and "South Coast," "Amor De Calle," and "How Long Blues" from In Person. Perhaps the most gorgeous "concert-only" song, however, is the shimmering "My Mary" from In Concert, Part 2. The day a rock band comes even remotely close to recording a song this beautiful, I'll eat my fretboard. Of course, the previously released material--which often gets revamped but suitable treatment--is quite notable as well. Their between-songs comedy patter is extremely witty and was probably a great influence on The Smothers Brothers.
Of course, I can only talk so much about the music of Bud and Travis. I urge you to look for these records wherever used vinyl is sold; I guarantee that the music within will speak much more eloquantly than I ever could.