The Four Knights

Sing Spotlight Songs

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The Four Knights' sole long-player appeared without a lot of fanfare in 1954, and hasn't been seen or heard from in the ensuing 50 years. That's a pity, because it is one of the most beautiful and impressive examples of soft, pop-oriented R&B that you can find and displays characteristics, in the sheer closeness of the recording, that could only have come from Capitol's own studios. The programming reflects the repertory the quartet brought to their supper-club engagements, opening with the 1952-vintage track "Charmaine," which becomes a delightfully bouncy number after an extended lyrical opening vamp. The songs and style then jump ahead two years to the bolder, more jaunty "Till Then." The ethereal "Easy Street," with Gene Alford's high-tenor lead, contrasts wonderfully with "Sleepy Time Gal," a showcase for Oscar Broadway's bass lead vocal -- the uncredited producer reveled in mixing the close timbres of the voices. The record then leaps back to their earliest Capitol sessions for the group's unexpected U.K. novelty hit, "I Get So Lonely (When I Dream About You)." "Oh, Miss Hannah" -- a "race" number that would have sound dated before World War II, but somehow passes muster in the breezy handling that the group gives it -- continues the low-key delights in these grooves, treading a fine line between classy interpretation and burlesque without faltering. Side two opens with the soft, languidly harmonized "The Glory of Love," which is as close to the Mills Brothers as the Four Knights sounded here, and is also a good showcase for Gene Alford's melodic whistling, part of the quartet's impressive arsenal of musical effects. John Wallace's guitar and Broadway and Clarence Dixon's basso voices are the focus of the surprisingly elegant and moving "I Ain't Got Nobody." "Georgia on My Mind" is so familiar as a Ray Charles number that it's a minor revelation to hear it done in four beautifully delineated voices, playing off the mix of timbres to create something larger than the sum of the voices. "Sentimental Journey" is given a few twists that no one raised on the Doris Day/Les Brown version probably ever thought possible, and is moved several shades more soulful and with exquisite interaction between the singers. Lofting it to intense emotional heights amid its relatively subdued arrangement, the two tenors soar on the central chorus high over Broadway's bass, while Wallace's guitar provides rhythmic and melodic backup on the otherwise a cappella recording. "Ida Sweet as Apple Cider" picks up the tempo several notches and shows off Alford's and the rest of the group's vocal acrobatics to delightful effect, the members vamping various instruments behind Wallace's playing. And "When My Baby Smiles at Me" closes the album out with a smooth ballad, showcasing Alford's sweet, high tenor, which anticipated the work of Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson, as well as his elegant whistling. The Four Knights' Sing Spotlight Songs is more than a lost soul treasure; rather, it's a vocal music treasure with an appeal to pop as well as R&B enthusiasts. The fact that it and the rest of the group's output has been reissued speaks volumes about Capitol's neglect of its 1950s catalog once one gets past Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Gene Vincent.