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Songs of the Great War – Keep The Home Fires Burning
rec. 1914-18
RETROSPECTIVE RTR4236 [78:13]

This is a single disc of two halves. The first is of acoustic recordings – what the booklet deems ‘pre-electrical’ – and the second electrical: thus a perfectly balanced selection of thirteen horn-recorded and thirteen microphone-recorded songs. All are devoted to the music of the Great War, with the later selection evoking memories of the First War when revived during the Second.

The earlier sides were recorded during the First World War and almost all were made in America. McCormack’s version of Keep The Home Fires Burning – the Ivor Novello song that lends its name to the Retrospective selection – was recorded in Camden, New Jersey in June 1917 and is clearly an essential item. There are two more songs by the Irish tenor, revealing his plangent legato and warmth. The compilers are clearly fond of Billy Murray and his American Quartet, a popular vocal ensemble of the time who recorded for Victor, as there are four songs either by the group or Murray as solo singer. Murray’s cod-Irishry is let loose on It’s A Long Way To Tipperary. Al Jolson is represented by You Made Me Love You and it’s useful to push aside – if one can – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s much later recording to get back to the original, with Jolson singing his most popular song of the 1914-18 period. Jazz aficionados may well be surprised by the stately tempo taken by (non-jazz) theatre star Marion Harris in her admired 1918 version of After You’ve Gone. Another song appropriated as a later Jazz standard is Chinatown, My Chinatown, sung by the American Quartet, and the process of transformation by which popular show tunes were absorbed into the jazz vernacular is indeed an interesting process. Jazz itself – let’s not debate the origins – is represented by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s Tiger Rag. A taste of East End of London vinegar is provided by the only non-American made recording, Music Hall superstar Marie Lloyd’s 1915 A Little Of What You Fancy Does You Good.
 
The electrical ‘reminiscences’ of earlier times include a bevy or popular singers and crooners and stage artists. Peter Dawson and Richard Tauber are here – the latter sings Roses Of Picardy in 1936 – whilst the amazing, young Deanna Durbin unveils her virtuosity on Home, Sweet Home, originally a huge seller for Alice Nielsen back in 1915. As The Second World War broke out Paul Robeson recorded a dignified and sonorously uplifting Jerusalem in London with Clifford Greenwood and the New Mayfair Orchestra: at least that’s what the track details here say. EMI’s Robeson box claims it’s an anonymous orchestra directed by Walter Goehr. I don’t have a Robeson discography but would welcome a definitive answer. Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler evoke earlier days with If You Were The Only Girl in the World, also from 1939, but the cute Andrews Sisters storm in with Oh, Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!, evoking very different feelings indeed. We also hear from Judy Garland, der Bingle, and Doris Day. Jolson demonstrates his recording longevity with his 1946 Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody.
 
This Songs of the Great War selection has been thoughtfully compiled and attractively produced.
 
Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: David Chandler

Track listing
Thirteen Great Recordings of 1914-18 (acoustic recordings)
1 Keep The Home Fires Burning – John McCormack
2 It’s A Long Way To Tipperary – The American Quartet
3 You Made Me Love You – Al Jolson
4 After You’ve Gone – Marion Harris
5 When You Wore A Tulip – The American Quartet
6 A Little Of What You Fancy Does You Good – Marie Lloyd
7 Chinatown, My Chinatown – The American Quartet
8 The Sunshine Of Your Smile – John McCormack
9 K-K-K-Katy – Billy Murray
10 Tiger Rag – The Original Dixieland Jazz Band
11 When Irish Eyes Are Smiling – John McCormack
12 Over There – Enrico Caruso
13 I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier – The
Peerless Quartet
Thirteen Great Recordings of 1914-18 (later electrical recordings)
14 The Cobbler’s Song – Peter Dawson
15 Roses Of Picardy – Richard Tauber
16 Home, Sweet Home – Deanna Durbin
17 Jerusalem – Paul Robeson
18 If You Were The Only Girl In The World – Webster Booth & Anne Ziegler
19 Oh, Johnny, Oh, Johnny, Oh! – The Andrews Sisters
20 For Me And My Gal – Judy Garland & Gene Kelly
21 Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral – Bing Crosby
22 Pretty Baby – Doris Day
23 Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody – Al Jolson
24 They Didn’t Believe Me – Kathryn Grayson
25 Play A Simple Melody – Bing & Gary Crosby
26 A Perfect Day – Paul Robeson