Wood’s Famous Blind Jubilee Singers (1925) / Cotton Belt Quartet (1926 – 1927) – Full Album
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Wood’s Famous Blind Jubilee Singers (1925) / Cotton Belt Quartet (1926 – 1927)
Genres: Religious, Spirituals, Gospel, Vocal Groups
Informative booklet notes by Stave Tracy.
Released in 1996 as part of Document’s massive catalogue of early to mid-20th century African American music, the “complete” works of Wood’s Famous Blind Jubilee Singers were neatly compiled with exactly the same number of titles by The Cotton Belt Quartet for a total of two-dozen historic sides which are welcome additions to a growing body of rare and hitherto all-but-unavailable recordings that are ripe for study and enjoyment. As three sides cut by Wood’s Famous Blind Jubilee Singers for Gennett in August 1925 were not included, the play list concentrates upon their Paramount recordings from September 1925.
Steve Tracy’s extensive explanatory notes describe “…a chant-like dharma that sweeps listeners into its current, providing a familiar face for the enlightenment manifested in the lyrics.” The group sang a cappella except on Seek and Ye Shall Find and You Must Be Converted, which have accompaniment by an unidentified pianist who predates Arizona Dranes’ first recordings for Okeh by about nine months. For many listeners, the most significant title on this album will be This Train Is Bound for Glory, a staple of the folk and blues revival during the ’50s and ’60s. The rather scratchy recording by Wood’s Famous Blind Jubilee Singers appears to have been one of this song’s earliest appearances on record.
The recordings of the Cotton Belt Quartet are well-suited for inclusion here, even as the group used a more polished and mannered approach than Wood’s Singers. Most of their records were cut for Vocalion between February and June 1926 without any accompaniments. On Go Down, Moses they were backed by organist A. Ricketts; the chimes heard on that selection were struck by Perry Bradford, remembered today as a composer of secular songs like “Keep A-Knockin’,” “It’s Right Here for You,” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down.” Bradford’s participation may have something to do with the fact that he composed We’ll Be Ready When the Great Day Comes, which was performed by the Cotton Belt Quartet and several years later, by Leo Scat Watson & the Spirits of Rhythm. Both versions contain inspired language describing Cain slaying Abel by hitting him in the head with the leg of a table. This collection closes with two unusual departures from straightforward spirituals and gospel. Hallelujah was composed by Tin Pan Alley tunesmith Vincent Youmans, and for a while became something of a jazz standard after a rather stiff reading by Ed Kirkeby & the California Ramblers and several superb solo piano interpretations by Fats Waller. The Cotton Belt Quartet version and its flipside have piano accompaniment by Blanche Smith Walton, who worked with Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon and backed him on one of his very best records, “Willie the Weeper.” “Hallelujah” contains a humorous bit of theatre in which coins audibly land in the collection plate while the minister admonishes the congregation not to hand in any pennies! Talk About Dixie is a ghastly pop song extolling the paradisiacal qualities of the southern United States at a time when African Americans were still living there under apartheid-like conditions.