Al Hirt

The Legend at His Best

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Al Hirt was a classically trained trumpeter who made a name for himself as a Dixieland jazz player during the 1950s. Throughout the mid-'60s he churned out a series of pop records that only tangentially referenced the jazz tradition on which his initial popularity was based. The Collectables budget reissue label presents a compilation containing music originally released on four glucose-themed LP albums: Cotton Candy (1962), Honey in the Horn (1963), Sugar Lips (1964), and That Honey Horn Sound (1965). This adds up to 46 tracks, most of which can only be pegged as high-fructose corn, often involving the Anita Kerr Singers, a monosaccharide vocal group emitting sounds that typify the spongiest pop production practices of the decade. (Unfortunately, the "Cotton Candy" album presented here differs substantially from Hirt's second album of the same name -- recorded in 1988 and released in 1989 -- which was an authentic Dixieland date featuring clarinetist Peanuts Hucko.) Pop highlights on this over-sweetened collection include "Alley Cat" and Hirt's biggest hit, "Java." Jazz moments occur in the ballads "I Can't Get Started," "Stardust," and Django Reinhardt's "Django's Castle"; Hirt manages to include a couple of old-time standards, "(Back Home Again In) Indiana" and "Twelfth Street Rag," but most of this sticky-sweet retrospective is riddled with middle-of-the-road pop inventions that were obviously imposed by clueless A&R directors. Although there are a couple of melodies credited to country-pop stalwarts Floyd Cramer and Hank Snow, most of the tunes herein are cheap nothings, including lobotomized variations on the waltz and the Twist.

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