The title Best of the War Years might lead some people to believe that this 2001 release contains some of the most essential recordings that Nat "King" Cole made for Capitol during World War II, but it's actually a collection of V-disc material. In the 1940s, V-discs were jazz and pop records that were made especially for the U.S. Armed Forces -- V-discs (V as in victory) weren't sold to the general public, and they were shipped overseas to American troops in an effort to boost morale. The V-disc program started in 1943, although it continued for several years after the U.S. and its European allies declared victory. Here's where things really get ironic: In Japan and Germany -- countries that the U.S. battled during WWII -- V-disc recordings are a very hot item among jazz collectors. Whether they're in Europe, the U.S., or Asia, Cole collectors will be thrilled to have 15 V-disc recordings of 1943-1946 on the same CD. Cole recorded most of these swing-oriented performances with his drumless trio, which also included guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Johnny Miller. The only non-trio recording is "Nat Meets June," a Metronome All Stars item that finds Cole performing a vocal duet with June Christy. Many of the gems on this CD were also recorded for Capitol, including "Sweet Lorraine," "Route 66," "Embraceable You," and "The Frim Fram Sauce" -- these aren't the famous Capitol versions, but they're still captivating. Nonetheless, The Best of the War Years isn't recommended to those who have only a casual interest in Cole's trio output; they would be better off sticking to Rhino's superb Jumpin' at Capitol: The Best of the Nat King Cole Trio. But serious collectors should make a point of obtaining this CD.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson