If the exquisitely packaged -- the box is shaped like an old-time radio -- limited-edition The 1940s Mercury Sessions is too extravagantly priced or simply unobtainable, this single-disc sampler is the next best thing. For all of the diverse backgrounds and destinations of Mercury's artists, the music on this CD has a distinct identity, conjuring a forgotten time when swing and bop mixed easily with emerging rhythm & blues in bite-sized, under-three-minute slices suitable for every jukebox in every juke joint in the land. The CD leads off with a sampling of the supercharged Albert Ammons piano boogie sessions with a tight little rhythm section (there are more madly swinging choices than these, but you'll get the idea). We hear a pair of Helen Humes blues cuts with loose Buck Clayton-led backup groups, a neat Jay McShann sextet with vintage blues shouting by Jimmy Witherspoon, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson's exuberantly bright blues vocals and alto sax, Professor Longhair's early blues-drenched incarnation as plain old Roy Byrd, and Cootie Williams leading a hot jump sextet with tenor Willis Jackson blowin' his fool head off. Only the ornery Buddy Rich defies the Mercury jump-blues sound with two unrepentant sides of big-band swing. Above all, this is a most entertaining souvenir of a time when jazz was still a form of popular music.
AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell