Anyone attempting to appreciate the artistry of Al Jolson needs to shift into reverse and ease out the clutch. The recordings he made during the 1930s are superior to his spasms of self-caricature during the '40s. The Jolson of the '20s was exciting, charismatic and inventive. Venture back further to his earliest appearances on phonograph records and you've entered a sort of fantasy world where busy little pit orchestras bubbled, hooted and clucked behind a singer who emoted with all the subtlety of a roman candle. Jolson was both a gifted, traditionally trained singer and a rambunctious vocal contortionist who tied himself in knots in order to convey the topical or emotional essence of every song that he ever got his hands on. Volume 2 in Pearl Flapper's survey of Al Jolson's best work is packed with historical recordings made between November 22, 1911 and October 10, 1923. Some of these performances are superb. Highlights are George M. Cohan's "That Haunting Melody," "Yoo Hoo" which contains an excellent example of Jolson's famous whistling method; "I'm Saving Up the Means to Get to New Orleans," "You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet" and "You've Simply Got Me Cuckoo." Jolson, and the entertainment industry within which he kicked and screamed, regularly trundled out cheerful, seemingly harmless novelties that upon closer inspection contain unpleasant currents of misogyny. "I Sent My Wife to the Thousand Isles" is only foolishly mean-spirited, but "I Gave Her That," with its reference to a blackened left eye, moves through egotism and materialism into the realm of domestic violence. And that's not funny.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf