Biddleville Quintette

Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1

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When in the 1990s the Document label expanded their early blues and jazz catalog to include African American spirituals and gospel, a wealth of great music was brought out of hiding and rescued from oblivion. Whereas some listeners may feel that the transfers are too faithful to the less-than-ideal condition of the grooves on the original 78 rpm phonograph records, in most cases, those recordings are so rare that we are fortunate indeed to be able to hear them at all, or even become aware of their existence, and after a few minutes, most people will forget all about surface noise as the music takes over. The Biddleville Quintette of Charlotte, NC is an excellent example of a group whose legacy is well worth appreciating in its entirety. This became possible when the Document label reissued all 36 of their known recordings in two volumes. Volume one contains the first 22 sides, which were recorded during the years 1926-1929. From the get-go, this disc offers the kind of transformational listening experience that renders all questions of "entertainment" more or less irrelevant. The blend of voices -- four men and one woman -- carries a penetrating intensity that matches the subject matter. Some of the songs are prefaced by sermons, and the general effect is that of a closely knit congregation whose devotion to their spiritual discipline is profound and unwavering. The rhythmic structure of "Whosoever Will May Come" creates the formidable impression of an enormous wheel rolling inexorably onward. It leads logically into "Coming to Christ" and "Receiving the Message," which have been identified as the earliest recordings of black shape-note singing; additional examples from this period are by the Middle Georgia Singing Convention No.1 and the Fa-So-La Singers. Other great moments in this inspiring collection are "Fight on Your Time Ain't Long," "Heaven Is My View," "Jesus Gonna Shake My Righteous Hand," "Didn't It Rain?," and "This Train Is Bound for Glory," during which the singers imitate a locomotive's horn blast with disarming accuracy. Whereas this folk-gospel classic was first recorded four years earlier by Woods' Blind Jubilee Singers, the Biddleville Quintette was among the earliest to follow in their footsteps. While this group usually performed a cappella, "Holy Is My Name" and the 1929 recording of "Way Down in Egypt Land" have drum and tambourine accompaniment to help drive home the message and communicate feelings that run deep.

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