A true American maverick, Texas fiddler Bob Wills blended the big band freedom of jazz with the melodic sense of pop and country in the various incarnations of his Texas Playboys, and while he wasn't alone in working this hybrid genre that came to be known as Western swing, he came to personify it like no one before or since. The 15 tracks collected here were recorded in the late 1930s and early to mid-'40s, and most of them feature the lead vocals of Tommy Duncan, whose natural tenor meshed seamlessly with Wills' country hollers, and the two of them had a long and fruitful musical partnership between 1932 and 1948, and then again from 1959 to 1962. He may have worn a cowboy hat on-stage, but Duncan was in his heart a true pop crooner whose jazz-inflected phrasing brought an uptown veneer to the Playboys' repertoire, allowing the band to play to audiences across the board, from pop and country to jazz and swing, and once Wills figured out how to make a country string section stand in for a bank of horns, the Playboys hit their natural stride playing easy rolling uptown jazz music with a country heart. These sides originally appeared some years back as an LP from Longhorn Records and this is their first appearance in a domestic CD format. From a jazzy version of "31st Street Blues" to the marvelous and topical "G.I. Blues," these rare recordings are in the vintage Texas Playboys style, wonderfully punctuated by Wills' trademark "ah-hah" holler, which just might be the most joyous and soothing syllables ever committed to wax.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett