The 11th title in the History label's 15-CD box set Louis Armstrong and the eighth in the Past Perfect label's ten-CD box set Portrait (both imprints are part of the German firm the International Music Company), Rockin' Chair presents 20 tracks recorded by Armstrong between May 1938 and April 1939. During the period, the trumpeter/vocalist continued to front a big band led by Luis Russell that toured the country extensively. It is heard here, but so is a white studio group on four tracks ("Naturally," "I've Got a Pocketful of Dreams," "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," "Ain't Misbehavin'") and the Casa Loma Orchestra on two others ("Rockin' Chair," "Lazybones"). Armstrong managed to score hits with the Gershwins' "Love Walked In," his first-ever recording of "When the Saints Go Marching In," a remake of his classic "West End Blues," and, most successfully, "Jeepers Creepers," which he introduced in the film Going Places, but it sounds like Decca-head Jack Kapp had run out of ideas for him. The selections feature many re-recordings of old Armstrong favorites, and there's a dearth of good new material. The album does not contain all of Armstrong's recordings of the period, leaving out several tracks with the Mills Brothers and a session of spirituals with the Decca Mixed Chorus. These recordings are claimed by Universal Music in the U.S. (they are in the public domain in Europe), but both box sets are readily available domestically via mail order, which is good since Universal didn't have a comparable album in print at the time of this album's release. A more complete version of the material can be heard on the quasi-legal Classics label's 1938-1939 (523) and 1939-1940 (615), but this album is much less expensive.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann