It's safe to say that had it not been for the official introduction of electrical recording in 1925, the Bing Crosby revolution would not have come about in pop singing; the limitations of the acoustical, pre-1925 recording process did not all allow for the highly nuanced vocal style that Crosby and his numerous admirers -- from Frank Sinatra to the Ink Spots to Nat King Cole -- thrived on in the studio. But the acoustical, pre-Crosby, pre-crooner era of pop singing definitely had its charms, and in the 20th century's first quarter, Henry Burr reigned supreme as one of the leading pop vocalists. What this 27-track, 78-minute collection (which spans 1903-1928) lacks in subtlety and nuance it usually makes up for in terms of warmth and charisma -- most of the time, anyway. Burr (a major influence on Al Jolson, Rudy Vallée, and other pre-Crosby favorites) was not above recording cutesy novelty items; for example, "What Do You Mean, You Didn't Want to Do It?" (a male/female duet with Ada Jones) definitely falls into the novelty category. But Henry Burr Anthology: The Original King of Pop has plenty of great tracks as well, and Burr is in fine form when he turns his attention to "Loch Lomond" in 1905, "Peg o' My Heart" in 1913, "My Buddy" in 1922, and Irving Berlin's "Always" in 1926. Equally definitive is 1905's "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree," the ballad that made Burr a pop star (even though the term "pop star" had yet to be invented in 1905). For those raised on smooth, nuanced crooners like Crosby, Sinatra, Cole, Mel Tormé, and Dean Martin, the quasi-operatic, over-enunciated approach of Burr, Billy Murray, Jolson, etc., can be an acquired taste. But there is no denying Burr's historic importance, and Archeophone deserves serious applause for assembling this collection in so thoughtful a fashion (from comprehensive, informative liner notes to excellent digital remastering). The Original King of Pop is not the last word on Burr's legacy -- he was recorded so exhaustively in the 1900s, 1910s, and 1920s that a multi-disc box set could easily be put together -- but even so, this CD is highly recommended to anyone with even a casual interest in North American pop's pre-Crosby era.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson