The duo of William Bolcom and Joan Morris has commanded a national and even international audience for recording turn-of-the-century popular songs on the Nonesuch label. This little disc isn't of the same scope marketing-wise; it's a production more or less homemade in the duo's home base of Ann Arbor, MI, featuring as narrator a former disc jockey on the area's onetime classical National Public Radio station. The album is no less carefully done than their big-name releases, however, and those interested in Bolcom and Morris, whose music-making has held up well over 40 years, should seek this disc out. They get an assist from another durable vocalist, Robert White. But the real innovation with this album is Schumacher's narration, which includes a few tidbits that even seasoned historians may not know. He mentions songs beyond the 19 that appear on the album, and the listener comes away with a renewed appreciation of how closely the events of the war were mirrored in popular song. There are a few familiar numbers, such as The White Cliffs of Dover, but the group also unearths some intriguing oddities like A Zoot Suit, with Schumacher pointing out that he himself owned one at one time. Songs deal not only with the life of soldiers and their sweethearts, but also with such details as blackouts, and Schumacher recalls being on a boat in the Detroit River and seeing the entire city go dark. The use of Irving Berlin's This Is the Army, Mr. Jones, to conclude the program is effective; Schumacher points out that Berlin wrote war-themed musicals for both world wars, and it's interesting to reflect that it's a rare musical style that has been so vigorous for so long. A unique keepsake for World War II buffs or fans of Bolcom and Morris, or indeed for anyone interested in the relationship between popular song and society.
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