This album, the long-awaited reissue of the highly collectible 1961 vinyl original, should be required listening for every egomaniacal TV star who suddenly decides to add "recording star" to his resume. Simply put, this is one of the best - if not THE best - TV show-inspired albums ever made. The album brilliantly underscores the importance of music to the success of "The Andy Griffith Show." After all, the show had perhaps television's all-time catchiest theme (included here in all its carefree glory) and embraced an amazing variety of musical genres.
Andy belts out four folk chestnuts heard on the show ("The New River Train," "Cindy," "Flop Eared Mule" and "Sourwood Mountain"), backed up by the Country Boys, a wonderful bluegrass band who made two brief appearances on the show (before The Dillards made their indelible mark as the Darlings). Ange also sings "The Fishin' Hole" (with words by Everett Sloane, ornery Jubal Foster from "The Keeper of the Flame" episode) in the happy-go-luckiest way imaginable!
Best of all are the extended versions of composer-conductor Earle Hagen's character themes and incidental music, masterful compositions that enriched the program immeasurably. They are just as enjoyable, and more fully appreciated, outside the show's context. "Ellie's Theme" is sprightly and playful, in contrast to "Aunt Bee," which is much more wistful and melancholy than the program version, but both are beautiful. The urgent martial beat of "Manhunt" (unmistakably, Barney's theme) makes you want to take that bullet out of your pocket and go looking for jaywalkers. "Mayberry March" (later the theme to "Mayberry R.F.D.") gets the full John Philip Sousa treatment. Finally, there's "Barney's Hoe Down" (often heard as background music on the show), featured here in a big, proud, sprawling, all-American arrangement that Aaron Copland would heartily approve.
The only misstep is Andy's tedious retelling of "Jack and the Beanstalk." The album's producer (and Andy, too) should have realized that the comedian was at his best playing off the reactions of a live audience. This overproduced studio bit is uncomfortably humorless. (For the best of Andy's comedy monologues, check out either "Andy Griffith - American Originals" or "The Wit and Wisdom of Andy Griffith.")
Trivia note: The original album cover was used as a prop in Episode 19, "Mayberry on Record."