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The Boswell Sisters – Shout, Sister, Shout! Their 52 Finest 1931-36
Various accompaniments
RETROSPECTIVE RTS4242 [78:21 + 77:23]

The Boswell Sisters, collectively and indeed individually (in the case of Connee), remain one of the most impressive and influential of singing groups. Their rhythm vocal recordings were made with some of the best instrumentalists of the day and their discs are seldom less than top-notch. Their enharmonics were tremendously controlled and virtuosic, and the sisters were versatile instrumentalists themselves, with the exception of Connee who was the outstanding solo singer. This all-round musical awareness surely suggests why their recordings are so subtly-voiced and so enduringly successful.

This twofer takes us on a retrospective journey across 52 of their best recordings between 1931 and 1936. Victor Young offers strong support, with the rump of the Dorsey Brothers band in his orchestra. Indeed theirs was the instrumental nucleus – along with Joe Venuti, Arthur Schutt, Eddie Lang, Manny Klein and later Bunny Berigan and the bands of Jimmy Grier (more workmanlike as regards soloists) and Russ Case – who had Will Bradley and Artie Shaw on board. The level of accompaniments, arrangements and soloing is high. The sisters were sassy when occasion demanded – When I Take My Sugar To Tea for instance - and stylistically laid-back as befits their New Orleanian heritage and offered some often brief solo opportunities to the band players. One hears snatches of Klein and Venuti in the earlier sessions but one always hears and feels Eddie Lang’s propulsive guitar work. For all their virtuosity, the sisters could also relax. An Evening in Caroline shows them at their lightest, never forcing the issue. It was fortunate in that respect that they had fine arrangers. Glenn Miller takes the honours in Was That The Human Thing To Do?, a nice Sammy Fain tune with lyrics by Joe Young which is perfectly suited to the sisters’ performance style. In these Dorsey Brothers sides from 1931-32 we can sometimes hear Martha Boswell playing piano and celesta, but I’ve always regretted we hear nothing of string-playing sister Vet.

One way to vary arrangements was to introduce a variety of tempi within a song, a useful trick that is pulled off on a number of pieces where the tempo often starts slow and is then subject to an inject of period vitesse. This happens in Ellington’s It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing in which the two tempi are bridged by Tommy Dorsey’s languorous trombone solo. Along with Ellingtonia the Boswells also took up folksy Americana – Louisiana Hayride, then hot off the press in 1932 – with its down-home fiddle not from Venuti but from Harry Holman. Martha, guitarist Dick McDonough and bassist Artie Bernstein also formed a band-within-a-band on Crazy People and she and guitarist Bobby Sherwood recorded a terrific Dinah in 1934. But they also kept up with the old time tunes in the case of things like Alexander’s Ragtime Band and The Darktown Strutters’ Ball, the last with just a touch of Latino about the beat. Martha joined with two experienced British players – guitarist Dick Ball and drummer Max ‘Frying Tonight’ Bacon - for a couple of sides for English Brunswick in 1935, which aren’t so well-known and thus their restoration here is welcome. Still, the earliest sides are best in respect of instrumental finesse and interesting arrangements – the Russ Case sides are a tad disappointing, though the singing is customarily excellent.

So this is a fine introduction to the Sisters, graced by good notes from Peter Dempsey. As usual I wish the transfers had been more open at the top, but I can heartily recommend the track selection.

Jonathan Woolf

Track listing
CD1 (1931-1932)
1. Shout, Sister, Shout!
2. Wha’dja Do To Me?
3. When I Take My Sugar To Tea
4. Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On
5. Sing A Little Jingle
6. I Found A Million Dollar Baby
7. It’s The Girl
8. It’s You!
9. Making Faces At The Man In The Moon
10. I Can’t Write The Words
11. Shine On, Harvest Moon
12. Heebie Jeebies
13. River, Stay ’Way From My Door
14. An Evening In Caroline
15. Nothing Is Sweeter Than You
16. I Thank You, Mister Moon
17. Was That The Human Thing To Do?
18. Put That Sun Back In The Sky
19. Everybody Loves My Baby
20. There’ll Be Some Changes Made
21. Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
22. If It Ain’t Love
23. Doggone, I’ve Done It!
24. Hand Me Down My Walkin’ Cane
25. We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye
26. Down Among The Sheltering Palms
CD2 (1932-1936)
1. Charlie Two-Step
2. I Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing!
3. Louisiana Hayride
4. Crazy People
5. Mood Indigo
6. Forty-Second Street
7. Shuffle Off To Buffalo
8. That’s How Rhythm Was Born
9. Coffee In The Morning, Kisses In The Night
10. You Oughta Be In Pictures
11. Alexander’s Ragtime Band
12. The Darktown Strutters’ Ball
13 Don’t Let Your Love Go Wrong
14. Rock And Roll
15. If I Had A Million Dollars
16. The Object Of My Affection
17. Dinah
18. Saint Louis Blues
19. Fare Thee Well, Annabelle
20. Lullaby Of Broadway
21. Top Hat, White Tie And Tails
22. Cheek To Cheek
23. I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter
24. The Music Goes ’Round And Around
25. Let Yourself Go
26. I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket