Various Artists

Guitar Rarities, Vol. 2

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Compiled and presented by the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors, this second volume of uncommon guitar recordings is greatly enhanced by a set of informative, insightful liner notes written by guitarist, vocalist, humorist, and historian Marty Grosz. The guitar, he writes, was considered low-life and undignified back in the 1930s, unless it was present as an essential ingredient in the jazz and dance band rhythm section. Amplified guitar recordings began to materialize in 1938, and within ten years the "electric guitar" was poised to take over the entire music industry. Since 1950 the U.S. infatuation with guitars has become so widespread and deeply ingrained that it might be difficult for some to imagine a time when this instrument was still associated with cowboys, lower classes, and the ethnic "other." How ironic, then, that not one musician of color is heard on this collection. Most of these performances were waxed as novelties intended to lighten up radio broadcasts and sell sheet music. At times the jazz element seems almost entirely absent. The producers of this compilation claim to have "abandoned the traditional chronological approach in deference to esthetics." This means you get 23 historical selections arranged in a manner that is presumably ideal for casual listening and background music. Difficulties may arise if the listener attempts to reconcile the track list with the discography, a confusing proposition possibly requiring patience and a cheat sheet. The earliest recording presented here is a snappy version of "Nagasaki" from 1933, featuring guitarist Frank Staffa with Rudy Vallée and his Connecticut Yankees. This is one of only two Vallée instrumentals known to exist. An alternate take of "Stage Fright" from 1934 illustrates the marvelous dexterity of Dick McDonough and Carl Kress. Two swing numbers recorded in 1935 feature an English ensemble consisting of three guitars, tipple, celeste, and string bass. The John Cali/Tony Gattuso duo sounds like it's picking along in the footsteps of the great Eddie Lang. Eight sides by the Paul Whiteman Swinging Strings seem to be trapped in the lobby of a late-'30s hotel with celeste, xylophone, and the inevitable violins crowding the guitars every step of the way. Two sparkling duets by George Barnes and Ernie Varner pull the focus into the middle '40s with electrically amplified guitars and inventive chord progressions. This grab bag of musical artifacts closes with three pop sides recorded in 1947 by singing guitarist Mary Osborne, with the emphasis on her pretty voice and only occasional riffs from her guitar. "No Moon at All" belongs to a subgenre of moonless Tin Pan Alley songs, best represented by Fats Waller's 1934 recording of Jack Stern's "Let's Pretend There's a Moon."

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