Al Jolson

The Best of the Decca Years

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This is a surprisingly strong and effective presentation of the highlights from the Indian Summer of Al Jolson's career, which began with his appearance in the 1945 movie Rhapsody in Blue. Though he was 15 years older than the last time he'd steadily pursued commercial recording, Jolson still had a powerful voice and was as brash as ever in putting over a song, and modern recording techniques (circa 1945-1947) and their resulting fidelity only seem to have brought out the best in his him, in terms of his instincts as a performer. Everything on this CD is a potential show-stopper, and give as good an account as his pre-1930 sides of what his appeal was. Morris Stoloff, who also served as music director on The Jolson Story (1946) -- which featured the singer voice-dubbing star Larry Parks -- proved equally adept at bringing the singing legend back to the recording studio, and it is something of a godsend to hear Jolson in so sympathetic a setting, and in glittering fidelity. The sound could probably be improved still more by a fresh remastering, and Universal has access to some 71 sides that Jolson cut for Decca during this period, but as a starting point to appreciate either the end of his career or the career as a whole, one could do a lot worse than these 16 songs. And the producers have saved the very best for last -- track 16, worth the price of admission by itself, is a killer duet on "Alexander's Ragtime Band" by Jolson and Bing Crosby, in which both singers shine brilliantly, perfectly complementing each other. Oh, and the annotation by Herbert G. Goldman is a treat, thorough and entertaining, and extremely enlightening.

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