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The Complete EMI Sessions, 1928-1939 [Box Set]
Jerome Kern, James Weldon Johnson, Will Marion Cook
The Complete EMI Sessions, 1928-1939 [Box Set]
Genres: Folk, Jazz, Special Interest, Pop, Soundtracks, Classical, Gospel
  •  Track Listings (23) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (20) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (24) - Disc #3
  •  Track Listings (25) - Disc #4
  •  Track Listings (26) - Disc #5
  •  Track Listings (26) - Disc #6
  •  Track Listings (26) - Disc #7

170-track digitally remastered 7-CD album set containing all the HMV recordings, as well as the 1928 Columbia recording of 'Ol' Man River' from Show Boat with the Drury Lane chorus and orchestra that was not released until...  more »


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170-track digitally remastered 7-CD album set containing all the HMV recordings, as well as the 1928 Columbia recording of 'Ol' Man River' from Show Boat with the Drury Lane chorus and orchestra that was not released until 1976 for contractual reasons. Also included are the two HMV recordings of 'Ol' Man River', the first made in 1930 as a solo with Ray Noble's Orchestra and the second in 1936 with chorus and orchestra conducted by Clifford Greenwood.).

CD Reviews

This is only for dedicated fans, but for us, it is a treasur
William E. Adams | Midland, Texas USA | 09/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I could not afford this seven-disc box, but my dear friends Jim and Cindy Clark of Kansas, realizing that I am the only Robeson fan they are ever likely to meet, gifted me with this. I am extremely grateful. I "discovered" Paul in 1959, when I was 14, via a Vanguard folk sampler I checked out of the Trenton, NJ Public Library. The song was "Get on Board, Little Children" and lasted all of 77 seconds, but it changed my life. (On the same set, I "discovered" Cisco Houston, and that track also changed my life. What a great trip to the library that turned out to be.)

I went on to eventually own 11 Robeson LP's, the videotape of James Earl Jones doing a one-man show as Paul, a hardcover full-length biography, and a dozen or more newspaper or magazine articles about him. Most of those items are gone now, and my collection was down to two CD's and a 78 RPM box set of his "Ballad for Americans" on RCA from 1940. Then EMI remastered these 1930's recordings from London, and the Clarks played Santa for me. (Pay attention to the "new or used" line in this listing, because you can find this at a much better price than the one shown.)

Here one gets 170 tracks, about eight hours' worth of Robeson. There are a lot of repetitions here, including three versions of "Old Man River" which became Paul's signature tune for his "classical" fans. One of those versions was for the London cast recording of "Showboat" in 1928, and it leads off the package in great style.

Paul actually began his recording career in the USA in 1927 with a package of spirituals. Those sessions were reissued back in the 1960's on an LP, and most of them were re-recorded in London over the subsequent few years and do appear on this set. The Robesons lived in London for most of the 1930's, because Paul found more concert and film work there than in America. Since these beautifully remastered performances end in 1939 with the outbreak of World War II and Paul's return to the USA, the ten-minute "Ballad for Americans" is NOT included here. Neither is "Joe Hill" which is Robeson's signature song for his "folk-oriented" followers.

If you buy this box, or whine until a friend gives it to you as a present, you will find much that is outdated, even junky by today's standards. Here there are some novelty songs which hold little interest to modern ears, and many plantation/darky songs which are more offensive now, even to black ears. However, the sparkling gems definitely outweigh the drab stones in these 170 slices of Paul's British life 70 years ago.

I'll conclude by listing some of my favorites on each disc:

CD One gives us the 1928-29 sessions (at what is now the famous Abbey Road Studio)and I like: Old Man River, Scandalize My Name, I Want to Be Ready, My Lord What a Morning, Git On Board, Li'l Children, Dere's No Hiding Place, and Oh, Didn't It Rain.

CD Two (1930-31) brings you Go Down Moses, (one of Paul's favorites), Old Folks at Home, Poor Old Joe, My Old Kentucky Home, River, Stay Away From My Door, and Bear The Burden.

On Disc Three, I especially enjoyed Nearer My God to Thee, Roll De Chariot Along, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, On My Journey, Bye and Bye, and the two four-minute song medleys which conclude the CD.

For Disc Four, 1933-36, the winners are Water Boy, Steal Away, the eight-minute medly that is track 16, Shenandoah, Ezekiel Saw The Wheel, and Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho.

The fifth CD in the bos brings us Song of Freedom, Oh, No, John, Li'l David, and Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, along with 22 other rarities and re-recordings. These sessions were held at Abbey Road in 1936-37.

On Disc Six, the 1937-38 bookings at the studio, you will enjoy Dere's A Man Going 'Round Takin' Names, and No More, Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel? and the surprisingly lovely Silent Night, Holy Night. (Paul did not record many "Christmas Songs" in his career.) I also loved All Through the Night and Every Time I Feel The Spirit and Loch Lomond.

Finally, CD Seven brings us his studio work during 1939, and the diamonds here are Jerusalem and Deep River. The other tracks include songs from the film "Proud Valley", a handful of plantation numbers, and several songs previously unknown to me, which are interesting to hear but perhaps not compelling enough to hear repeatedly.

If you possess this one box, you might say with a high degree of accuracy that you have everything worthwhile that Robeson recorded in the first half of his long career. Beyond 1939, he has a brief period of adulation in America, due to the "Ballad for Americans" and some other patriotic numbers. However, his love for Russia lasted beyond the period in which we were allies in World War II, and that led, in the early 1950's, to Robeson being labelled un-American, and blacklisted, along with the Weavers, Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, and many of their leftist fellow artists. Paul had one great comeback in him, however, and after he won back his passport rights in 1958, he not only recorded again in England and traveled to Russia and Germany, but he staged several farewell concerts in New York City which were preserved on vinyl for Columbia, and stand among his best-recorded works. Between 1940 and his retirement in 1963, he recorded in the USA about 80 percent of the contents of this box set. Paul died in 1976, having suffered a form of dementia during his last six or seven years of life. He was not an active presence in the civil rights turmoil of the Sixties, but he worked for civil rights for the four decades prior, and without his grace and courage, that movement might not have succeeded when it did.

Barry McCanna | Normandy, France | 10/03/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I was introduced to the glorious voice of Paul Robeson by way of my grandfather's 78s, and he would have wept tears of joy at this superlative presentation from EMI Classics, which I've been playing in concentrated bursts ever since it arrived.

Three versions of "Ol' Man River" are included, the first being the Columbia recording from the Drury Lane production of "Show Boat", which was not released at the time because Robeson was under contract to Victor/HMV. That is the opening track of the first CD, which is fitting, because Robeson's role as Joe launched his career in England. The importance of the song to his career merited some care in its background description. The play had been adapted from Edna Ferber's novel, with Oscar Hammerstein II writing book and lyrics, and Jerome Kern providing the score. It comes as a shock, therefore, that in the discography the song is credited solely to Jerome Kern (as is the later "I Still Suits Me" in which he duets with Elisabeth Welch), and the opening of Patrick O'Connor's liner note refers to "Jerome Kern's musical play"!

That's not the only bit of carelessness; both "Roll, Away Clouds" (Jack Waller, Joe Tunbridge) and "Sonny Boy" (de Sylva, Brown & Henderson) are credited as "Trad. Arr. Paul Robeson" whilst Nat Shilkret's life has been curtailed by 50 years. Finally, it is disappointing that the 23 pages of discography carry no details about the original releases. On the other hand, the booklet is well-produced with some fascinating photographs.

Turning to the recordings themselves, many which reflect Robeson's religious background as the son of a preacher were accompanied by pianist Lawrence Brown, although Jack Hylton & his orchestra backed the 1931 medley of spirituals. But Robeson also recorded many traditional songs, and some of the popular songs of the day, which appealed to an extremely wide audience, and continue to do so. He sang similar fare on the concert platform, and the majority of these recordings have never been out of the catalogue.

The debate about some of these songs has been well rehearsed: suffice it to say here that the controversy generated centred on Paul, rather than the lyricists concerned. A clear case of shooting the messenger! NOTE: the second version of "Ol' Man River" kicks off with the N word, but Robeson amended it for the later recording and performances.

For me, this is a spellbinding collection, the hidden delights of which reside in those tracks (mainly the then current popular songs) which were accompanied by the HMV studio orchestra. Its directors, mainly Carroll Gibbons and Ray Noble, were able to call upon the cream of London's musicians. Thus we hear Max Goldberg's muted trumpet accompaniment on several songs, including "River, Stay `Way From My Door", and some splendid guitar work on "Lazy Bones".

As to the quality of the transfers, the volume generated in "Roll Away, Clouds" by the orchestra and chorus seem to have defeated the recording engineers, because the acoustic sounds boxy and the peaks of sound are uncomfortable to my ear. Certain tracks suffer also from surface noise, some more so than others, but overall the standard is extremely high
Excellent set!
A. J. Furer | Cambridge, MA | 01/26/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"An excellent set, showcasing many of Robeson's commercial (as opposed to political recordings) mostly recorded while he resided in the UK. A must for libraries and fans. When complemented by _The Collector's Paul Robeson_ (available from Smithsonian Folkways), _Songs of Free Men_, and _Songs for Free Men_ (these are two separate albums, despite the similarity in title), one sees the enormous breadth of Robeson's recordings, which cover many genres (spirituals, work songs, folk songs, classical, jazz, pop, Broadway, etc.) and over a dozen languages, from Yiddish and Celtic to Russian and Chinese. There are, of course, many other Robeson albums worth purchasing, such as _The Tchaikovsky Hall Concert_, and _Ballad for Americans_, among many others. And, for film fans, the Criterion Collection of Robeson's films, also on sale at Amazon, is a must."