These sides were recorded in the mid-'40s, just after Kay Starr departed the Charlie Barnet Orchestra for a solo career. It was also a time when the number of small independent labels was growing, especially on the West Coast. Starr hooked up with of these fledgling labels, Lamplighter, to record 18 sides. On these, she was accompanied by a variety of small groups, all led by Duke Ellington's clarinet-player-to-be, Barney Bigard. Bigard, born in New Orleans, was one of the leading practitioners of that city's Creole style of clarinet playing. Staying pretty much in the middle register, Bigard's rich, woody tone framed Starr's voice and style perfectly. Starr became equally at ease with jazz, blues, pop, rock & roll, R&B, folk, gospel, and country, and is arguably the most flexible singer of all time. For these sessions, Starr concentrated on swing and blues, though it's the blues that she really brings to life. "Stormy Weather" and "Frying Pan" (which she wrote with her then-manager Ted Yerxa, who was also the owner of Lamplighter) are among the best renditions of the blues on this disc. But of all the18 cuts she made with Bigard, no tune better illuminated the golden fruits of their collaboration than "Where or When," which features poignant choruses by Starr and a solemn, New Orleans-style solo by Bigard. While he was the main man on these cuts, Bigard was not alone in providing scintillating instrumental work. Trombonist Vic Dickenson takes a long muted solo on the alternate take of "Sunday," and Zutty Singleton's drums get in plenty of licks. "Frying Pan" features some fine back-and-forth instrumental work by Bigard and Dickenson. The only negative about these sessions is Allan Reuss' annoying rhythm guitar strumming in the background. Baldwin Street Music has been very generous with this album. In addition to the Lamplighter sessions, there are ten bonus performances with the Bob Crosby Orchestra, Wingy Manone, Charlie Barnet, and the Barney Kessel Quartet. These are from radio transcriptions and some rare studio recordings, with three cuts from Gene Norman's Just Jazz Concerts. The highlights of the bonus material are "A Sunday Kind of Love" with Kessel, "I Can Get Started With You" with Barnet, and the album's coda tune, "If I Could Be With You." The latter, also with Kessel, is from Norman's Just Jazz Concert of August 4, 1947. Major kudos to Baldwin Street Music for bringing back this rare material; it reminds us just how good Kay Starr was in her heyday. Since these songs were cut before the advent of long-playing records, most of them are no longer than three minutes in length, reminding us just how much good music can be produced in such a short time -- a lost art in these days of extended-play compact discs.
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