A subtitle on the cover of U.K. budget archival label Empress' Forties Dance Band Hits reads "The Cream of British Wartime Bands," and Simon Cross' liner notes further detail the album's contents as "the hits of 1943." Those descriptions should be kept in mind by the potential customer, especially an American one unlikely to be familiar with even the most popular orchestras featured here, those of Ambrose, Geraldo, Carroll Gibbons, and Harry Roy, not to mention the more obscure Ivy Benson, Billy Ternant, and Eric Winstone, whose recordings fill out the album. The year is significant in that it was a period when American musicians were shunning recording studios due to a union strike, though some a cappella recording was taking place. You'd be hard-pressed to find an American recording of "Sunday, Monday or Always" featuring a band arrangement in this era, but there's one here by Geraldo. In fact, many of the tracks are British versions of American hits, which can be a problem when the English singers try to copy songs like "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" and "Pistol Packin' Mama" in ersatz American accents. Even when they manage to negotiate the lyrics, the British musicians generally don't swing as well as the American bands do. Their best moments come when they are performing their own material. For example, Harry Roy turns in a swinging version of "The Lady Who Didn't Believe in Love" and Carroll Gibbons looks forward to a drunken victory celebration in "I'm Going to Get Lit Up" ("when the lights go up in London," goes the lyric). American swing fans may find it interesting to hear what their allies were doing in 1943, but this set is mostly intended for British fans who are familiar with these recordings.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann