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The Boswell Sisters: The Boswell Sisters Collection

Chris Mosey By

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This magnificent boxed set of five CDs and one DVD represents the entire commercially released recorded output of the Boswell Sisters, the most popular and influential close harmony vocal group ever. They were white, but lead singer Connie— she later changed the spelling to Connee—sang black. Ella Fitzgerald, when she was starting out, said her aim was to sound just like her.

Before they concentrated purely on singing, the sisters were a vaudeville act, accompanying themselves on musical instruments. Elder sister Martha, played piano, Connie played cello and the youngest, Helvetia, known as Vet, not only played fiddle but also performed tap and clog dancing to order. Travelling to gigs, Martha and Vet would carry Connie, who had been crippled in a childhood accident—she always sang sitting down.

This set follows the Boswells' career as a vocal group from 1931 until 1936, when Martha and Vet quit showbiz in favor of married life, leaving Connie—by now Connee—to pursue a successful solo career. It's a reminder that, before the advent of bebop—and for good or ill—jazz was entertainment ,and part of the popular music mainstream.

On the debit side there are collaborations with long forgotten male singers with sub- operatic pretensions, medleys of show tunes, anomalies, such as the sisters singing male parts ("When I Take My Sugar To Tea" and "Shine On Harvest Moon"), and one outright racist number ("That's Why Darkies Were Born"). There is also much corn, literally so on the DVD, which opens with a barnyard send-up titled "Close Farm-ony."

But there are also collaborations with jazzers such as Tommy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Red Nichols, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Don Redman and Eddie Lang that result in some pretty daring experimentation with key and rhythm changes ("Everybody Loves My Baby" and—appropriately—"There'll Be Some Changes Made").

The Boswells also endorsed the incorporation of elements of the blues into popular music ("Was That The Human Thing To Do?" and Harold Arlen's wonderful "Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea"). In this department, Connie's unaccompanied vocal on "Got The South In My Soul" is pure magic.

Mostly, of course, in our harsh modern age, the Boswells represent unabashed nostalgia. When they sang "Thank You Mister Moon" mankind had yet to walk on it. In their day, million dollar babies might still be found in five and ten cent stores. And their "Rock And Roll," from 1934, had neither sexual nor musical connotations, but was just about "the rolling, rocking rhythm of the sea."

Track Listing: CD1: Wha'dja Do To Me? When I Take My Sugar To Tea; Roll On, Mississippi; Shout, Sister, Shout; Sing A Little Jingle; I Found A Million Dollar Baby; It's The Girl; It's You; Makin' Faces At The Man In The Moon; I Can't Write The Words; Shine On Harvest Moon; Heebie Jeebies; River, Stay 'Way From My Door; An Ev'ning In Caroline; Nothing Is Sweeter Than You; I Thank You Mister Moon; Was That The Human Thing To Do?; Put That Sun Back In The Sky; Stop The Sun, Stop The Moon; Everybody Loves My Baby; There'll Be Some Changes Made; Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea; If It Ain't Love; Got The South In My Soul. CD2: Nights When I'm Lonely; We're On The Highway To Heaven; That's What I Like About You; My Future Just Passed; Heebie Jeebies; Gee, But I'd Like To Make You Happy; Don't Tell Him What Happened To Me; I Surrender Dear; Star Dust; Sing A Little Jingle; Gems From George White's Scandals, Parts 1 and 2; We've Got To Put That Sun Back In The Sky; Was That The Human Thing To Do?; California Medley, Parts 1 and 2; Lawd, You Made The Night Too Long; O.K., America Medley, Part 2; O.K., America Medley, Part 1. CD3: Was That The Human Thing To Do?; California Medley, Part Two; Lawd, You Made The Night Too Long; O.K., America Medley, Part 2; O.K., America Medley, Part 1; Doggone, I've Done It; Hand Me Down My Walkin' Cane; Old Yazoo; We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye; Sleep, Come On And Take Me; Down Among The Sheltering Palms; Down On The Delta; Charlie Two-Step; A Sentimental Gentleman From Georgia; It Don't Mean A Thing; Louisiana Hayride; Minnie The Moocher's Wedding Day; Crazy People; Mood Indigo; Forty-Second Street; Shuffle Off To Buffalo. CD4: California Medley, Part 2; O.K., America Medley, Part 2; We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye; Sleep, Come On And Take Me; Down Among The Sheltering Palms; Mood Indigo; Forty-Second Street; The Gold Diggers' Song; It's Sunday Down In Caroline; Puttin' It On, Swanee Mammy; Sophisticated Lady; That's How Rhythm Was Born; Song of Surrender; Coffee In The Morning; You Oughta Be In Pictures; I Hate Myself (For Being So Mean To You); Goin' Home; The Lonesome Road; Rock And Roll; If I Had A Million Dollars; The Object Of My Affection; It's Written All Over Your Face; Dinah. CD5: OK America; Coffee In The Morning; Alexander's Ragtime Band; The Darktown Strutters' Ball; Don't Let Your Love Go Wrong; Why Don't You Practice What You Preach?; If I Had A Million Dollars; The Object Of My Affection; It's Written All Over Your Face; Dinah; Way Back Home; Every Little Moment; Travelin' All Alone; St Louis Blues; Fare Thee Well, Annabelle; Lullaby Of Broadway; Top Hat, White Tie And Tails; Cheek To Cheek; I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter; The Music Goes Round And Around; Let Yourself Go; I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket.

Personnel: Tommy Dorsey: trombone; Will Bradley: trombone; Charlie Butterfield: trombone; Russ Jenner: trombone; Jimmy Dorsey: clarinet; Red Nichols: clarinet; Benny Goodman: clarinet; Artie Shaw: clarinet; Don Redman: flute, alto saxophone; Larry Binyon: flute, tenor saxophone; Babe Russin: tenor saxophone; Chester Hazlett: alto saxophone; Bunny Berigan: trumpet; Mannie Klein: trumpet; Johnny "Scat" Davis: trumpet Mannie Weinstock: trumpet; Russ Case: trumpet; Ed Wade: trumpet; Joe Venuti: violin; Harry Hoffman: violin; Arthur Schutt: piano; Martha Boswell: piano; Vitaly Jaques Lubowski: piano; Jack Russin: piano; Eddie Lang: guitar; Dick McDonough: guitar; Carl Kress: guitar; Bobby Sherwood: guitar; Joe Brannelly: guitar; Perry Botkin: banjo, guitar; Artie Bernstein: bass; Dick Cherwin: bass; Dick Ball: bass; Stan King: drums; Max Bacon: drums.

Title: The Boswell Sisters Collection | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Storyville Records

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