Thursday, 27 August 2015

"Street Corner Symphonies Volume 1: 1939-1949" by VARIOUS ARTISTS (2012 Bear Family CD – Marcus Heumann Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…If I Didn’t Care...Would I Feel This Way..."

Hot on the heels of their definitive "Blowing The Fuse" and "Sweet Soul Music" CD Series (15 volumes to each genre of R'n'B and Soul) comes Bear Family’s Vocal Group attack - 15 discs spanning 1939 to 1963. Volumes 1 to 10 hit the shops in May and October 2012 and the last five in the spring of 2013. And while critics
will argue that Vocal Group music has already been done to death by Rhino (3 x 4CD Box Sets across the decades) and a mountain of other cheapo labels taking advantage of the 50-year copyright law - this is the first time someone reputable (other than Rhino) have had a go - and typically these German-issued Bear Family CDs are gorgeous in all the right places - presentation and audio. You get 30 tracks and a format-incredible total playing time of 87:09 minutes. Time to 'cover the waterfront'...with 'memories that never die'...

Released May 2012 in Germany - "Street Corner Symphonies Volume 1: 1939-1949" on Bear Family BCD 17279 AR (Barcode 4000127172792) breaks down as follows (I've provided American 78" catalogue numbers on all tracks – those with two or more catalogue numbers are reissues in the same year – 87:09 minutes):

1. If I Didn't Care – THE INK SPOTS (1939, Decca 2286, A)
2. I Miss You So – THE CATS and THE FIDDLE (1940, Bluebird 8429, B-side to “Public Jitterbug No. 1”)
3. Till Then – THE MILLS BROTHERS (1944, Decca 18599, A)
4. I Learn A Lesson, I'll Never Forget (1944, Beacon 7120, A)
5. Sentimental Reasons – DEEK WATSON (1945, Manor 1009, A)
6. Play Jackpot – DUSTY BROOKS and His Four Tones (1945, Memo 1001, A)
7. Atom And Evil – THE GOLDEN GATE QUARTET (1946, Columbia 37236, A)
8. Just A-Sittin' And A-Rockin' – THE DELTA RHYTHM BOYS (1946, Decca 18739, A)
9. I Know – THE JUBALAIRES with Andy Kirk and His Orchestra (1946, Decca 18782, A)
10. I Sold My Heart To The Junk Man – THE BASIN STREET BOYS (1946, Exclusive 225, A)
11. I Cover The Waterfront – THE CATS 'N' JAMMER THREE (1946, Mercury 2003, A)
12. My Baby – THE MELODY MASTERS (1946, Apollo 379, A)
13. I Wonder, I Wonder, I Wonder – THE FOUR ACES (1946, Trilon 143, A)
14. P. S. I Love You – THE FOUR VAGABONDS (1947, Apollo 1057, A)
15. Ol' Man River – THE RAVENS (1947, National 9035, A)
16. Don't You Think I Oughta Know – BILL JOHNSON and His Musical Notes (1947, Harlem 1011/Queen 4171/King 4171, A)
17. I'm All Dressed Up With A Broken Heart – THE FIVE BARS (1947, Bullet 1009, A)
18. Solitude – THE SCAMPS (1947, Modern Music 550, A)
19. After Awhile – THE BIG THREE TRIO (1947, Columbia 37893/30103, A)
20. It's Too Soon To Know – THE ORIOLES (1948, It’s A Natural 5000/Jubilee 5000, A)
21. Recess In Heaven – THE DEEP RIVER BOYS (1948, RCA Victor 20-3203, A)
22. Loch Lomond – THE ROCKETS (1948, Aladdin 3017, A)
23. Go Long – THE DIXIEAIRES (1948, Gotham 163, A)
24. It Takes A Long Tall Brown Skinned Gal – THE FOUR BLUES (1948, Apollo 398, A)
25. You're Heartless – THE FOUR TUNES (1949, RCA Victor 22-0024/50-0008, A)
26. A Kiss And A Rose – THE CHARIOTEERS (1949, Columbia 38438, A)
27. Wrapped Up In A Dream – THE FOUR KNIGHTS (1949, Coral 60046, A)
28. River Stay Away From My Door – THE SYNCOPATORS (1949, National 9095, A)
29. If It's So Baby – THE ROBINS (1949, Savoy 726, A)
30. I've Been A Fool – THE SHADOWS (1949, Lee 200, A)

The 82-page non-detachable booklet is a feast of indepth liner notes on each release by Grammy-winning writer and lifelong fan BILL DAHL. Let's put it this way - there's a 'Photo Captions' index on Page 81 that tells who's who in the black and white publicity shots that accompany most (not all) of the photos. It actually lists the singer's names  - who else but Bear would do this? The text is peppered with pictures of those old American 78s on long-forgotten labels like National, Gotham, Bullet, Apollo, Memo, Beacon and Bluebird. You get trade adverts and concert posters for The Ink Spots, The Delta Rhythm Boys, Bill Samuels, The Four Vagabonds and The Four Blues. The CD repros the rare "I'm All Dressed Up With A Broken Heart" by The Five Bars on Bullet and the spine makes up a single photograph of the series name when you line up all 15 volumes alongside each other on a shelf. Long-standing and trusted names like Walter DeVenne, Nico Feuerbach, Victor Pearlin, Colin Escott and Billy Vera have been involved in the research - while Audio Engineer MARCUS HEUMANN did the superb mastering (some Disc/Metalpart transfers by Victor Pearlin and Lothar Blank). The sources (as you can imagine) differ wildly but to my ears the sound quality is improved on everything that I've heard before (including some of the Rhino box sets). The audio and presentation are top-class here (a norm for Bear Family)...

With a huge 30 tracks and a format-busting playing time of 87:09 minutes – you certainly can't accuse this CD of scrimping it. Volume 1 in the series of 15 opens with a died-in-the-wool 1938 classic famously used in the opening scene of Frank Darabont's 1994 movie masterpiece "The Shawshank Redemption". The character Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sat drunk in his car at night with a gun in hand. He knows that his wife is inside the house ahead of him with another man as he listens to The Ink Spots on the radio sing their nostalgic love song "If I Didn't Care'. Both it and the following two lullabies precursor Fifties Vocal Groups by a decade – "I Miss You So" by The Cats And The Fiddle and "Till Then" by The Mills Brothers – and the opening three sound utterly astonishing in their clarity. All that goes out the window with "I Learned A Lesson, I'll Never Forget" which has clearly been dubbed from a badly worn disc (shame because it's a sweetheart of a tune).

I've always had a thing for "Sentimental Reasons" which Linda Ronstadt covered so beautifully on her 1986 album "'Round Midnight" (also used in the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere soundtrack to "The Runaway Bride" in 1999) and often wondered who did the original? Well here it is. Fronted by ex Ink Spots Tenor Ivory 'Deek' Watson and written by their Baritone/Guitarist William 'Pat' Best – it's another rough transfer – but a fabulous inclusion – scratchy or no. A welcome lyrical wit kicks in with the slot-machine song "Play Jackpot" where our hero wisely advises his listeners to "...pull down the lever and see what you got..." (it also boasts great audio despite the barely audible crackle in the background). The same brill audio applies to a genuinely astonishing find – an anti nuclear song cut a year after Enola Gay dropped its horrible cargo. It's called "Atom And Evil" wherein The Golden Gate Quarter solemnly warn us that if "...Atom and Evil should ever be wed...then damn near all of us are gonna be dead..." (so true).

Duke Ellington's "Just A-Sittin' And A Rockin'" as sung by The Delta Rhythm Boys features the gorgeous Lead Vocals of Otho 'Lee' Gaines – said to have massively influenced a singer beloved by all Vocal Group collectors – Jimmy Ricks of The Ravens. And you can hear why Ricks was so enamoured – Gaines' deep velvet tone lift every song to another place. Fabulous clarity returns with "I Know" by The Jubalaires where Andy Kirk fronts amazing Brass and Guitar. The gorgeous standard "I Sold My Heart To The Junk Man" is represented here by a clean-as-a-whistle transfer for The Basin Street Boys where Ormond Wilson sadly tells all his lady friends that "...he'll never fall in love again...” (though I've heard they’re not so sure). Two very rough transfers come at you next – "Cover The Waterfront" and "My Baby" and while the lovely melodies impress – there's no escaping the fact that the wall of cackle and clicks make them hard going as a listen.

Better is "P.S. I Love You" sung by Lead Tenor John Jordan of The Four Vagabonds – as lovely and as nostalgic a tune as a filmmaker could wish for. A welcome bopper arrives in sparkling form as the awesome Bass Singer Jimmy Ricks does that Jerome Kern classic "Ol' Man River" for The Ravens – thankfully keeping it upbeat - the suffering explored in the song somehow pushed into the background. Two more beautiful melodies "Don't You Think I Oughta Know" by Bill Johnson and "I'm Dressed Up With A Broken Heart" by The Five Bars are badly wrecked – but they're such gorgeous songs and strong performances – I can fully understand their inclusion is not just about rarity value. Thankfully the clarity on The Scamps version of Duke Ellington's "Solitude" is fabulous – piano and voices like they were in the room. The Big Three Trio liven things up with "...Hey Mo! Tell old Tom...hurry on down...the party is on...were gonna drink a little whiskey...after awhile..."

Things go into the legendary with "It's Too Soon To Know" by The Orioles fronted by the suave and silver-toned Sonny Til - a sex symbol of the day for African-American teenage girls (the equally terrific George Nelson holds the second half of the song sounding not unlike a young Louis Armstrong). Another professing-my-love "my angle, my dear" song comes in the sweet shape of The Deep River Boys singing "Recess In Heaven" while the vocal bopper "Loch Lomond" assures us that The Rockets have all been to Scotland (well maybe not). And on it goes to Preacher Brown who's in both celestial and congregational trouble because a "...long tall brown skinned gal made him lay his bible down..." (oh dear). Saving us all from the flames of desire is the wistful "You're Heartless" by The Four Tunes – another audio winner with stunning clarity. Aside from the R&B jaunt of The Robins on a wonderfully clear "If It's So Baby" - two of the compilation's final four - "A Kiss And A Rose" by The Charioteers and "Wrapped Up In A Dream" by The Four Knights are amazingly evocative – dripping the sob-pillow longings of hopeless romantics the world over...and would we have it any other way.

To sum up – I had honestly felt that Volume 1 in this series would be an Audio Disaster Area because of transfer problems with discs so staggeringly old (and as I’ve highlighted - in some cases it is). But man oh man the clarity on the others is stunning. And like its 1950 follow-up – '1939 to 1949' is dominated by unashamedly smoochy tunes – an out-and-out 'romantic' compilation that positively drips old movies nostalgia – and personally I love that.

Niggles - they're too expensive as singles discs and perhaps they should have been doubles because real collectors will have more than a few titles on offer here. But Bear Family will argue '...not in this sound quality or looking this good...' - and they'd have a point.

Presented to us with love and affection by an independent record company that cares about forgotten voices that shouldn’t be forgotten. What a sweetheart of a compilation and another gold standard from Bear...

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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