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2009 - week 22, from 6 June - vocal groups

PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2009 12:01 pm
by Charlie
Seq - Artist - Song Title - Album - Country - Label - Cat no

1 - Alison Krauss - Down to the River to Pray - O Brother Where Art Thou - USA - Mercury - 170 0602

2 - Swan Silvertones - Oh Mary Don’t You Weep - Testify! The Gospel Box - USA - Rhino - R2 73734

3 - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Allah Hu, Allah Hu - Ecstasy - Pakistan - Nascente - NSCD 073

4 - Sexteto Bolona - A Morir, Caballeros (Until Death, Gentlemen) - Sextetos Cubanos - Cuba - Arhoolie - 7006

5 - The Heptones - Book of Rules - Peace & Harmony - Jamaica - Trojan - TJDDD202

6 - The Manhattan Brothers - Malayisha - The Very Best - South Africa - Gallotone - CDZAC77

7 - Papua New Guinea Stringbands with Bob Brozman - Watikai lau Nuk Pau Atalaig - Songs from the Volcano - Papua New Guineau - Riverside - TUGCD 1040


I love vocal groups. But only when they are the featured artist. I generally can’t stand it when they are brought in to reinforce the melody on somebody else’s record, as in too many pop records in the 1960s. But give me a record where the vocal group is the focus and I’m a happy man, wallowing in the interplay of voices.

Alison Krauss

I’m not sure if I quite realised it when O Brother Where Art Thou came out, but that film and its soundtrack were explicit celebrations of vocal groups, unusually bringing black and white music into one coherent sequence. Among the few apparent exceptions, if you simply look at the artist credits, is the name of Alison Krauss, the only name listed for ‘Down to the River to Pray’. But listen to the track, and it is a showcase of interweaving vocals, individual voices alternating with Alison’s until a whole choir takes the song away at the end. Great production by T-Bone Burnett.

The Swan Silvdertones

There are a few genres in which vocal groups are the dominant artist type, notably black American gospel music. In his highly recommended book, The Gospel Sound, author Tony Heilbert classifies all such groups as Gospel Quartets, even though quite a few of them are actually Quintets or even larger. One of the top such groups were The Swan Silvertones, whose lead singer Claude Jeter was among the few who could match Sam Cooke for pure clarity. The trick was to convey emotion without going overboard into histrionics, and Claude was the maestro. He briefly surfaced into public visibility on Paul Simon’s album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, but never succumbed to pressure to move across into pop music full time and remained a revered figure in gospel circles until his recent death. Just listen to how he sings the word, ‘Mary’ so many different ways.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Because the name of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is usually mentioned on its own, it easy to forget or never know that his was just one voice in an assembly of fantastic vocalists, and although he was a matchless virtuoso, his best records always featured interplay with the rest of his group and his young singers were a joy to hear.

Sexteto Bolona

Cuban music is usually thought of as a vehicle for fantastic instrumentalists, particularly on trumpet, congas and piano, but there is also a great tradition of Cuban vocal groups, among whom Sexteto Bolona were the pioneers, recording as early as the 1920s.

The Heptones

Over the past years, it seems that Jamaican music has been reissued and repackaged into every conceivable category and genre, but there are surprisingly few compilations of vocal groups, despite this possibly being the strongest genre on the island. I would go so far as to suggest that a compilation of the best Jamaican vocal groups would be a greater pleasure than a parallel collection of American doo wop groups. It was hard to whittle them down to just one choice, but ‘Book of Rules’ by the Heptones has never let me down yet.

[photo courtesy ]
In South Africa, American jazz of the 1940s had a deep and lasting impact, with Louis Armstrong being the inspiration for Hugh Masekela and others, and the Mills Brothers, Ink Spots and Andrews Sisters setting off any number of vocal group imitators. The Manhattan Brothers are in danger of being remembered principally as the launching pad for their protégé Miriam Makeba, but were very popular in their own right.

We don’t play much music from the South Pacific islands in this programme, but grab the chance to feature one of the choirs featured on the album Songs from the Volcano, curated by American guitarist Bob Brozman.


PostPosted: Sun Jun 07, 2009 7:41 pm
by Charlie
emails from:

1. Peter Dawson, Edinburgh


I liked yesterday's program.

You asked what people thought you should play if you did another vocal program. How about playing some Hip-Hop? Some great vocals in Hip Hop and loads of great stuff to choose from. Its 20 years since De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising came out, so how about playing some De La Soul?



2. gerard hodson, cadiz, spain

More power to your elbow! splendid stuff



3. Paul Egan, Amherst, New York, USA

I was astonished to hear you name the piece by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as, "Allah Hoo," which it clearly was not. You played this seemingly reluctantly a year or so ago in a truncated version commenting that its full nine minutes was too long for the program. Better consider this.

Paul Egan


CG reply: I cannot explain or excuse how it happened. There is nobody else to blame - I was responsible from start to finish.

I simply accepted what it said on the CD case (which turns out to have been incorrect) and did not pay attention while putting the show together

4. Colleen Hall, London

Last week (7th June) you played a fabulous song called Oh Mary Don`t You Weep. I absolutely loved it and wanted to get out of my bed and bop around (which would have been no mean feat because I am not a spring chicken). Please, please, please play other tracks from the album as it may take me a few weeks to organise myself enough to get into central London to buy the album. unfortunately there`s no stores in my area that sells this kind of music and I don`t trust buying anything off the internet

Boswell Sisters

PostPosted: Sat Jun 13, 2009 12:02 am
by marymeanwhile
Enjoyed the show as always. You asked for listeners' suggestions on vocal groups. I'm a big fan of the Boswell Sisters, of New Orleans in the 1930s or so. Maybe "Minnie the Moocher" or "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane."

PostPosted: Sat Jun 13, 2009 3:49 pm
by John Leeson
A vocal group suggestion:

Last night I was at a CD release for Grupo Vocal Desandann, a wonderful 8-person acapella group from Camaguey, Cuba. They're all descended from Haitian immigrants (thus their name), and much of their music is Haitian-rooted.

They're known in Canada because of their 10 year old connection with sax/flute player Jane Bunnett, and have performed on a couple of her CDs. Their new release, Light the Flame (Pwan Dife in Creole), is their first CD in 10 years.

Samples of their previous CD, Descendants, are available on CD Baby. While they mostly perform in Spanish and Creole, here's a video clip of them in English, filmed in Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity in Nov. 2007.

I understand they'll be at WOMAD and the Edinburgh Festival of the Arts this summer.

PostPosted: Sat Jun 13, 2009 5:25 pm
by Neil Foxlee
Charlie said
In his highly recommended book, The Gospel Sound, author Tony Heilbert classifies all such groups as Gospel Quartets, even though quite a few of them are actually Quintets or even larger.[/b]

To correct Charlie's typo and assist anyone looking for the book, it's Tony /Anthony Heilbut. The term "quartet" in gospel, on the other hand, refers to four-part harmony (bass, baritone, tenor, lead), not the number of group members. Colleen Hall should seek out the Swans' Move Up CD on Charly/Snapper, even if she has to resort to the Internet (can't understand the reluctance myself, but still).

Vocal groups

PostPosted: Fri Jun 19, 2009 8:31 am
by Nick Tulett
Best gospel arrangement I've ever heard was Rev James Cleveland - Peace, Be Still - fantastic use of volume and silence.

Allah Hu

PostPosted: Thu Jun 25, 2009 5:04 pm
by kastamonu
I have emailed you separately Charlie - hope you receive. I wanted to draw your attention to Sain Zahoor - the most remarkable Pakistani Sufi Folk Singer & hoped his Allah Hu (or indeed any other Sufi Folk Singing by him) might be included in a future programme. Many thanks.