Various Artists

Dawn of an Era: 1905-1919

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Mail-order firm the Good Music Record Company's Dawn of an Era 1905-1919 compiles recordings originally released on Victor Records. Since it has only basic annotations (titles, artists, songwriters, dates of recording) on its 20 selections, the listener is forced to speculate about the compilers' intentions -- just what era are they referring to? The recording era, perhaps, since although that era dawned several years before 1905, the album contains re-recordings of popular songs dating from the start of commercial recording. In any case, Dawn of an Era 1905-1919 is a wonderful sampler of some of the most popular and significant recordings of the first two decades of the 20th century. It is full of landmark tracks, including 16 number one hits and the first and/or biggest hits for Billy Murray, Nora Bayes, Al Jolson, Ben Selvin, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, John Steel, Ada Jones, John McCormack, and Alma Gluck. Half the songs originated in Broadway musicals, and in some cases, they are sung by the performers who introduced them onstage. One can also hear the history of the period in songs that reflect on recent developments in transportation, or which evoke World War I. Of course, there were far more than 20 memorable recordings on Victor Records, not to mention other labels, in those years, and this set is hardly the last word. There is a dearth of comic and novelty material, no ballads to speak of, and no featured barbershop quartets. All of this is to say simply that, though Dawn of an Era 1905-1919 is a well-chosen and highly listenable collection, it doesn't approach being definitive. But given the lack of available recordings of even the most popular music of the period, it must be considered a very good beginning, and an excellent starting place for those interested in finding out what the popular music of the early 20th century sounded like. (Good Music Record Co., P.O. Box 1935, Ridgely, MD 21681-1935; yestermusic.com)

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