When swing lovers see the title The Best of the War Years, they might assume that Cleopatra's Stardust label is giving them a collection of Artie Shaw's famous RCA Victor singles. But this CD doesn't contain the well-known master takes of major hits like "Nightmare" (Shaw's ominous theme song), "Stardust," "Frenesi," and "Begin the Beguine"; instead, Stardust provides alternate takes -- specifically, alternate takes that came out on V-discs. During World War II, V-discs were 78s that were shipped overseas for the enjoyment of American servicemen. The "V" stood for victory, but it could have also stood for Vincent; U.S. Army Captain Bob Vincent, a World War I veteran, was the brains behind the Pentagon-approved, government-funded V-disc program. Many major jazz and pop artists made recordings specifically for the program, although some V-discs contained alternate takes that had been gathering dust in record company vaults. That was the case with the alternates on this CD, which spans 1938-1941. When Shaw's V-discs made it overseas, the alternates that American servicemen heard were only slightly inferior to the famous master takes that were huge sellers for RCA Victor. It should be noted that these alternates were recorded before the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 -- a day that, like September 11, 2001, Americans will never forget -- and before Capt. Vincent's V-disc program got into full swing in 1943. The alternates had been in the vaults for a few years when they were donated (or perhaps lent would be a better word) to the V-disc program. This CD falls short of essential and isn't recommended to casual listeners, who would be better off with the famous master takes of Shaw's swing-era hits. But it's a CD that hardcore fans will easily enjoy.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson