The Charioteers - Swing Low, Sweet Charioteers

Published Monday 13th May 2013
The Charioteers - Swing Low, Sweet Charioteers
The Charioteers - Swing Low, Sweet Charioteers

RATING 6 6 6 6 6 6
OUR PRODUCT CODE: 139091-20590
LABEL: Jasmine Records JASCD714

Reviewed by Tony Cummings

In the same way that gospel quartet singers of the '50s developed into a secularised form with '60s soul music, in pre-war years the close harmony sound of jubilee gospel was secularised for mass consumption by both black and white audiences. This exhaustive 51 track compilation of ancient 78s reminds us how those Ohio harmonisers took their jubilee gospel sound to the pop and jazz scene of the day to become celebrities in the entertainment industry appearing regularly on the radio, in Hollywood movies and releasing a veritable avalanche of 78s. At their best their sweet harmonies were stunning. One only has to listen to the sweet high tenor of Billy Williams and his barbershop-style cohorts to recognise that these were masters of the most intricate vocal interplay while the group's sheer rhythmic aplomb heard on the frantic tempoed opener "Swing For Sale" here showed they could give the Mills Brothers a run for their money. The downside to these recordings and radio transcriptions recorded between 1942 and 1947 is their material. For as well as quality Tin Pan Alley standards like "For Sentimental Reasons" and "Stormy Weather" they also indulged in horribly corny novelties like "Pistol Packin' Mama", "Mairzy Doats" and "Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet" which today sound embarrassingly quaint. Even stranger was their willingness to record with the big white crooners of the day. So it's hardly surprising that Bing Crosby and the Charioteers running through "Is You Is Or You Ain't My Baby" doesn't get close to bettering Louis Jordan's original. Even more surreal is to hear the Mafia-backed crooner Frank Sinatra with the Charioteers singing "Jesus Is A Rock (In A Weary Land)". Music historians will find much to ponder over on 'Swing Low, Sweet Charioteers'. But this decidedly mixed compilation is in truth often an uncomfortable listen.

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