Various Artists

The 1940's Mercury Sessions

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This seven-CD set is remarkable in several ways. The packaging is quite unique for the box is a plastic reproduction of a 1940s radio. Subtitled "Blues, Boogie & Bop," the music lives up to the billing, giving listeners the complete Mercury output of several top artists. There are 34 songs from pianist Albert Ammons (two featuring blues singer Sippie Wallace) which find Ammons turning everything (including "Red Sails in the Sunset," "Roses of Picardy" and "Margie") into boogie-woogie; a session with his son, tenor-saxophonist Gene Ammons, is a highpoint. Singer Helen Humes is showcased on 16 stomps and ballads, pianist Jay McShann (often with vocalists Jimmy Witherspoon or Walter Brown) has 24 songs and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson (on alto and vocals) is heard in a variety of settings on 30 selections. In addition there are nine tunes featuring R&B pianist/singer Professor Longhair, four songs apiece from singers Julia Lee, Myra Taylor and cornetist Rex Stewart, 12 pieces from Buddy Rich's bebop big band and ten by trumpeter Cootie Williams including the Willis "Gator" Jackson R&B hit "'Gator Tail." As if that were not enough, the seventh disc has previously unreleased alternate takes from Ammons, Humes, McShann, Vinson, Cootie and two "new" numbers by pianist Mary Lou Williams. The 80-page booklet (with notes from several writers including Dan Morgenstern) is definitive. Since this is a limited-edition release, it should be acquired as soon as possible; there are literally dozens of musical highlights.