The Sons of the Pioneers

Sing the Stephen Foster Songbook

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Western music trailblazers the Sons of the Pioneers were rising to fame as a major radio attraction when they recorded these fourteen songs for broadcast in August 1934 and April 1935, in which as part of their weekly show they interpreted a number of classic songs from the composer Stephen Foster. While these sessions were cut when Roy Rogers was still in the group (and known as Leonard Slye) prior to his emergence as a film star, he only takes the lead vocal on "Some Folks" and "Old Black Joe," with Bob Nolan fronting the group on most of the songs. Regardless of who is the main voice, the Sons of the Pioneers were master harmonizers, and even though this material was cut with the intention of being played once and tossed out afterward, the group's confident, quietly impassioned vocals and instrumental skill (particularly Hugh Farr's fiddle work) confirm they never slacked off when it came time to perform. Stephen Foster was one of America's first great popular songwriters, and his material lends itself well to the rustic approach of the Sons of the Pioneers. While in the 21st Century Foster's portrayal of the pre-abolition South (and use of phrases like "darkies") seems at best awkward and at worst racist, viewed in the context of their period these songs don't sound hateful so much as poorly informed, and the grace of Foster's melodies and the wistful tone of his lyrics are still effective nearly a century and a half after his passing. Given the wealth of available material by the Sons of the Pioneers, a fourteen-song album running less than 40 minutes seems a bit skimpy, but as a marriage of artist and composer, this collection is a worthy purchase for fans of the traditional American songbook.

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