We have been delving into the vaults of King Records for well over 10 years now, covering most of the key Americana musical genres. Now at last we take a look at its gospel catalogue and there is no better place to start than with the BEST OF KING GOSPEL.
The expert Opal Louis Nations has selected four tracks each by the leading King gospel groups: the Spirit Of Memphis Quartet, Swan's Silvertone Singers (later the Swan Silvertones), the Nightingales (later the Sensational Nightingales), the Trumpeteers, the Four Internes, and the Cumberland River Singers. These quartet recordings were cut in Gospel's Golden Age, between 1949 and 1953.
In his notes, Nations describes how King boss Syd Nathan dipped his toes gingerly into the spiritual waters after spotting the vast potential for race and hillbilly records from his Cincinnati, Ohio outpost. As the 1940s advanced, Nathan must have been impressed by the success of his fellow independent record men with gospel music, but in the early 50s the market became so competitive that he took a backward step.
While Nathan was involved seriously in gospel, he accepted only the best. Take the quality lead singing of Claude Jeter with the Swans' and Jet Bledsoe with the Spirit Of Memphis. In particular, Bledsoe tears up the house on the 1952 live recording of Lord Jesus. A real highlight is the Cumberland River Singers' heartfelt rendition of I Wonder Who Cares, an anguished plea to congregations to fill empty church pews in the troubled era of the Korean War. The Atomic Telephone is another period gem.
The harmonies of all the groups will delight gospel and, yes, doowop fans everywhere. The sound, from the original masters, is superb.
Opal Louis Nations ends his notes with a personal sermon, which speaks for itself: 'Let us hope, with your help, that this long awaited collection sells well enough to warrant further explorations into the treasures of the mighty King gospel catalogue.'
By John Broven