Technology often has a way of influencing art, and the official introduction of electrical recording in 1925 made it possible for innovative crooners Gene Austin and Bing Crosby to point traditional pop singing in a softer, smoother, more nuanced and jazz-influenced direction and paved the way for Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, and all the other Crosby-influenced male crooners who were popular in the '40s and '50s (not to mention female pop legends like Jo Stafford and Peggy Lee). Thanks to the limitations of acoustical recording, the pop vocalists who emerged during the pre-1925, pre-crooner era of traditional pop singing had no choice but to consistently belt and project -- and there is plenty of belting and projecting on 1915: They'd Sooner Sleep on Thistles, an excellent compilation that spans 1910-1915 and focuses primarily on pre-crooner vocal pop. Soprano vocalist Alice Nielsen's very opera-minded performance on "Home Sweet Home" is from 1910, but most of the 25 tracks on this 78-minute CD are World War I era recordings from 1914 or 1915. For people who grew up listening to Sinatra, Art Lund, Vic Damone, and Tony Bennett, the heavily enunciated, quasi-operatic approach associated with Henry Burr, Al Jolson, and Billy Murray (three of the 1910s stars on this compilation) can be an acquired taste. But we do ourselves a huge disservice if we don't honor the past, and Archeophone honors the past enjoyably well on 1915: They'd Sooner Sleep on Thistles -- not only with Burr, Jolson and Murray, but also, with other 1910s vocalists who include George MacFarlane, Morton Harvey, Irving Kaufman, James Reed, and Raymond Dixon. People who think that group vocals in traditional pop started with the Mills Brothers, the Andrews Sisters, or the Ink Spots should check out the American Quartet (which Murray was a part of in addition to being a solo artist), the Peerless Quartet, and the Lyric Quartet, three acoustical-era vocal groups who are heard on this 2007 release. The American Quartet's "On the 5:15" takes a humorous look at the miseries of having to commute from the far reaches of suburbia to a job in the city, and shows that even during World War I, suburban sprawl was becoming a major headache for many Americans. And speaking of WWI, two recordings of "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier" (one by Harvey, the other by Peerless) demonstrate that in the mid-'10s, some Americans were hoping the U.S. would stay out of the First World War (nonetheless, the U.S. officially entered that conflict in 1917). Anti-war protests, complaints about commuting from suburbia, sentimental love songs -- 1915: They'd Sooner Sleep on Thistles really does demonstrate that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Between Archeophone's choice of material, fine digital remastering (the sound quality isn't nearly as scratchy as you might think) and highly informative liner notes, this is a jewel of a compilation.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson