Island in the Sun [Bear Family Box Set]
The German-based Bear Family is synonymous with serious archival releases for completists. The label's stringent attention to detail, top-shelf audio, as well as opulent packaging has earned the respect of any enthusiast lucky enough to obtain one of their titles. The five-volume Island in the Sun [Bear Family Box Set] continues that trend with their first in what is hoped to be many detailed assessments of the voluminous recording career of American entertainer Harry Belafonte. His first eight years (1949-1957) worth of recordings -- totalling nearly six hours -- have been carefully remastered from the highest-quality sources available. To match the ear candy is a coffee-table style hardbound book that contains 102 pages of previously unpublished photos, reams of memorabilia, and a comprehensive discography/sessionography. Arguably, the most flagrant misnomer plaguing Belafonte's earliest recordings concerns his association with the calypso scare of the late '50s. Major international news publications -- at the urging of overzealous promo men -- heralded him the king of calypso, for which his ravenous musical prowess was subsequently dismissed. As most of the materials on this collection are making their entry into the digital domain, the record can finally be set straight. Harry Belafonte's catalog is decidedly more derivative of American and international folk (aka, world) music, or even jazz, than of calypso, which was in fact an opaque term loosely referring to all music from the West Indies. Island in the Sun [Bear Family Box Set] begins with Belafonte's earliest sides (circa 1950) on Roost, Capitol, and Jubilee -- none of which have been available for decades prior to this collection. Also included are his first five long-players for RCA: Mark Twain and Other Folk Favorites, Belafonte, Calypso, An Evening With Belafonte (which is not a live recording), and Sings of the Caribbean. Of these, only Calypso had been issued on CD in North America, which is notable as the LP was also the very first -- in the history of the medium -- to sell over one million copies. A vast majority of Belafonte's signature material -- much of which inhabited the core of his live repertoire for the remainder of his performance career -- is from this initial eight-year period. Among the most notable of these are: "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)," "Scarlet Ribbons," "Man Smart (Woman Smarter)," "Matilda,""Sylvie," "Come Back Liza," "Danny Boy," " John Henry," "Jamaica Farewell," "Mary's Boy Child," "Hava Nageela,""Mama Look-A-Boo-Boo," "Will His Love Be Like His Rum," and the title track, "Island in the Sun." All materials have been remastered and sourced from the best production parts available -- some of which are the original acetates and other non-tape-derived components. The sound is naturally incomparable to any of the other releases on the market, as it invalidates them all. The accompanying book is a masterwork. Among the contents are newly inked essays on Belafonte's personal and professional lives as seen by his musical cohorts. Also included are page upon page of reproduced memorabilia from Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones -- which co-stars Belafonte with Dorothy Dandridge and Pearl Bailey. Plus a 38-page complete reproduction of Harry Belafonte: His Complete Life Story, a 1957 fan magazine which originally sold on newsstands for 35 cents. While the price tag will inevitably keep some enthusiasts at bay, Island in the Sun [Bear Family Box Set] can not be more highly recommended. It is a vital transcription of the international acclaim of America's premier and pre-eminent vocalist of the 20th -- or any other -- century.