This LP had my a bit confused at first, what with its copyright year of 1981. I was sure I had previously owned a much earlier edition, and it turns out that I was correct--this is a 1965 gem reissued on the occasion of the Speers' 60th anniversary. Hence, the revised cover (the anniversary reference). Now, my original copy had some weird "extra" sounds on a couple of the Side 2 tracks--sort of like audio bleeding through the performance, as if the engineer were reusing a tape that hadn't been fully erased. I wrote it off to a defect in the pressing, but apparently not, because the same noises are present in this edition! So the problem obviously resides in the master tape/disc. For some reason, it's a relief to discover that both the 1965 and 1981 editions have the same odd noises. Why that would come as a relief, I don't know. Maybe I've been puzzling over this subconsciously for the past ten years.
Back to topic, during the 1920s and 1930s (after forming in 1921), the Speers peddled songbooks for publisher James D. Vaughan, which meant they had to be good--and hard-working. I'd give anything to hear this wonderful group in its earliest days, but unfortunately it didn't start recording until 1947. And, needless to say, the outfit didn't get rich from singing to sell books, but maybe the paychecks got bigger when "Dad" Speer went to work for Stamps-Baxter upon James D. Vaughn's death in 1941. And bigger yet when they landed recording dates with Columbia and RCA. I hope so.
The music throughout this superior LP is expertly and lovingly presented--polished but with a down-home sincerity that gets addictive after a few tracks. I'll have to count this version of Palms of Victory (aka, Deliverance Will Come), as my all-time favorite (and my reason for snapping this up from the thrift bin), because the Speers get it exactly right, with a tight and subtly insistent instrumental background (after Ye Olde Deceptive Slow Start), a properly moderate tempo, and superbly precise diction--exactly what the words demand. It's all a buildup to the final (well, in print, the next-to-final) verse, in which he "wayworn traveler" at last reaches the Golden City. The group celebrates this triumph by drawing out the last three words:"Palms of victory I... shall... wear." Sometimes genius touches are simple ones. And sometimes, when you're working with great material, you just let it shine. This is a group which works to glorify the material, not itself.
Wayworn Traveler, by the way, was the title the Carter Family used when they recorded this 1836 number a century later. And, oddly enough, SecondHandSongs claims that Carter wrote the verse that ends this version ("While gazing on that city, Just o'er the narrow flood..."). In fact, the verse appears in my edition of New Christian Hymn and Tune Book, which was published in 1887--four years before A.P. was born. (Scan below.)
A touching note--George Thomas "Dad" Speer died one year after this LP, and wife Lena "Mom" Speer the following. Adds some poignancy to a beautifully done cover.
DOWNLOAD: The Speer Family--Won't We Be Happy (1965; re. 1981)