Louis Armstrong

1954

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This 22nd volume in Classics Records' chronological survey of the complete recordings of Louis Armstrong is a bit of a transitional one. It features Armstrong's last recordings for Decca Records, opening with a handful of studio versions of songs that were featured in the movie The Glenn Miller Story (including yet another take on "Basin Street Blues") and moves on to a pair of novelty songs, the utterly goofy "Spooks?" and a completely unnecessary rendition of Joyce Kilmer's poem "Trees" turned into a song. The miracle is that Armstrong's vocal almost -- almost -- makes "Trees" work as a legitimate song, but in the end a boat won't float if its design prevents it from doing so, and "Trees" just leaves one shaking one's head. What makes this installment worthwhile, though, is that it closes out with nine of the 11 songs that were featured on Armstrong's marvelous 1954 Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy LP from Columbia Records, including fine versions of "Ole Miss," "Beale Street Blues," "Loveless Love," and what may well be the definitive version of "St. Louis Blues," which comes in at just under nine minutes in length. The remaining two tracks from the 1954 Handy sessions, "Yellow Dog Blues" and "Sing 'Em Low," will presumably open Classics' 23rd installment of Armstrong's musical biography. The only truly essential tracks here are the Handy tunes, which have been reissued by Columbia anyway, complete with a full track listing and a couple of alternate takes, so unless you're collecting the complete Classics Armstrong series, this installment isn't particularly vital, although thanks to the Handy sides, it's a solid listen.

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