Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
The Swan Silvertones were one of the great old-time gospel vocal groups, up there with The Soul Stirrers, The Blind Boys (from Alabama or Mississippi - take your pick), but of course when they were in their pomp in those radio days of the late '50s and early '60s they were not "old time" at all but freshly contemporary. Even 50 years after the event these recordings from Specialty Records (1950-1953) and Vee Jay Records (1956-1963) sound as good as the day they were sung - and we tip our hat to engineer Michael Ochs for the more than acceptable audio quality. As is to be expected the lineup for the Silvertones changed over the years; Paul Owens (second lead tenor) and John Myles (baritone) are on both sets of recordings as is the main man, one of the true greats of African-American music, the Rev Claude Jeter, possessor of an "inspired and inspiring" falsetto, according to Paul Simon. While some of the titles will be familiar to all: "At The Cross", "Sinner Man", "Amazing Grace", "The Lord's Prayer" to name a selection, the vocal pyrotechnics of the Swan Silvertones turn them into something unique. To borrow another quote from the CD cover: "They were", according to Al Kooper, "the Beatles of gospel". The group's output has been re-issued, compiled and anthologised over the decades so collectors will need to check the full track listing to see whether this is worth buying. But if you are new to the Swan Silvertones and have any interest whatsoever in gospel and the genres which have grown from gospel roots this is an excellent place to start.
The opinions expressed in this article are
not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed
views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may
not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a
Interested in reviewing music? Find out