May 08, 1989 12:00 PM

The Washington Squares

Check out those goatees, acoustic guitars and black berets. It can only be the three Washington Squares, back with their second album of music so very square it just has to be hip. If the album’s credits didn’t read otherwise, a listener might swear that these new bohemians were transmogrified versions of Peter, Paul and Mary. Just as that earlier trio sang passionately about politics and love, so too with the nouveau beatniks. Just as the first Peter and Paul wove their sweet, gentle voices around the no-nonsense voice of Mary, so too with Tom Goodkind and Bruce Paskow as they harmonize with their leading lady, Lauren Agnelli.

From a Marxist point of view, it might seem like another case of history repeating itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. In the crass, materialistic 1980s, it’s difficult to take the Squares seriously as they interpret traditional songs or write new ones such as a guileless tribute to Beat hero Neal Cassady. Yet listeners who suspend their disbelief will appreciate Fair and Square as a sincere and worthwhile folk revival, not a campy rip-off. The Squares claim to have toughened up the genre by adding electric guitars to create what they call rock-folk. (“Folk-rock is rock music played soft,” explains Goodkind. “Rock-folk is folk music played loud.”) Either way, when the Squares dig into one of their better numbers, such as “Fourth Day of July,” the music brings back that old-timey thrill; it rouses the spirit.

While most other revival bands hark back to ’60s psychedelia, the Squares’ passion for folk is beginning to get contagious in their native New York City. Bob Dylan sound-alike Roger Manning released a debut album recently. Fifty cents says the postmodern Joan Baez gets here by Christmas. (Gold Castle)

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