Reviewed by Paul Poulton
Recordings made in the 1920s of three vocal groups; I was born in the '50s so that wasn't too long after these recordings were made. Given that it took longer for musical styles to drift across the Atlantic in those days, I clearly remember church-based male quartets emulating some of the styles on this CD. The Paramount Jubilee Singers give us six songs to open with, they do their best to fall into line with what was "acceptable" in the middle American church of the time, or at least if you are going to sing spirituals like "When The Saints Go Marching In" or "I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray" then sing them as formally as possible and you may get away with it. However, it never feels quite right; the soprano voice becomes wearing after a while, feeling strained and it certainly doesn't swing, and you know what they say, "if it ain't got that swing..." Far more up my street is the relaxed vibes of the Taskiana Four, this is more like the quartet singing I remember in church. Although the songs I heard as a young boy were by English white guys, here we have the real deal. It's easy to hear the music-hall style popular at the time, which began to flourish and get its polish when Hollywood started doing the plethora of musicals in the '30s and '40s. The Taskiana Four work hard at getting the harmonies right, keeping them fairly close. Considering there's not even a note from a musical instrument and no percussion they do a fine job of making these tunes move along using the songs' innate rhythms, coming as close as possible to swinging as the current church climate would allow. When the Paramount label first started to record "race records" in the early 1920s, they had to sell them to someone, so there had (I suppose) to be a certain amount of propriety about the style which the audience who had money to buy records would find acceptable. (Let's push the boat out, but not too far, then we can always get it back if we need to.) No such restrictions apply when the Four sing "Toot, Toot, Dixie" which shuffles along quite nicely - there's even a piano on "Dixie Bo-Bo", featuring a great lead vocal break, which today would be a guitar break. There was always an audience for Dixieland songs. But most of the songs sung by the Four are spiritual in content and tamer than the regular songs. The last vocal group on this historically interesting recording is the Southern Jubilee Quartet, who have two songs and offer their interpretation of "I Couldn't Hear Nobody Praying". They have their own jublilee style which is a pretty good example of its close twin the barbershop quartet.
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