Tiffany Transcriptions

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

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Tiffany Transcriptions Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

As great as they are, the studio recordings of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys were constricted by the length of 78 rpm records in the '40s. They were short, not allowing the group to stretch out and play the way they did in dancehalls or radio programs, which is why their radio sessions for Tiffany Music Company are such a treasure. Along with his partners Clifton Johnson (a DJ named Cactus Jack) and songwriter Clifford Sundin, Wills designed Tiffany as a way to get live performances by the Texas Playboys into markets where the band couldn't tour. During 1946 and 1947, Wills cut numerous sessions with the intention of syndicating the performances but the project didn't last long: after a few months, the company went under and the recordings were placed in a vault where they lay undiscovered until after the death of Sundin in 1981. Not long afterward, the music was licensed to the independent label Kaleidoscope Records who released the recordings in a ten-volume series of LPs, all grouped under specific themes, over the next few years, with Rhino releasing CDs in the late '80s. These albums drifted out of print by the late '90s, leaving a crucial gap in Wills catalog that Collectors Choice filled in 2009 with their first-ever box set, The Tiffany Transcriptions.

The Collectors Choice box is welcome but it doesn't deliver anything unexpected, at least in the way of newly unearthed recordings. It simply reissues those ten LPs, right down to the original cover art and liner notes, as slightly flimsy cardboard packages housed in a small CD-sized box. That's not to say there's nothing new here: there are excellent new notes from Rich Kienzle that cover the history of the Tiffany Transcriptions as a whole and the sound has been improved, although there's only so much that can be done with the source material. This meager selection of bonuses might be a disappointment for those hoping that the box would be a deluxe edition, but the set does what it sets out to do: gets this magnificent music back into circulation. The Tiffany Transcriptions truly is the best way to appreciate the breadth and depth of Wills & the Texas Playboys, to realize that their repertoire stretched from folk to Duke Ellington, to hear the band work a dancefloor and toss off extended solos, even acting as a backup band for the McKinney Sisters on the concluding disc of this set. Although the sequencing of the set is still designed for sampling -- the thematic groupings do give each of the ten discs their own character, making them easier to digest -- it is also true that once you hear one of these discs, you'll want to hear them all, so it's good to have them available as a big box. Plus, it's also true that The Tiffany Transcriptions aren't necessarily the place to get acquainted with Wills, but rather the place to fall in love with him, so once you know you're in it for the long haul with the Texas Playboys, it's worth the investment to get this box.