Saturday, March 5, 2016

New Releases: Bing Crosby's Good and Rare, Volume 3

Back in 2009, the British reissue label Sepia Records released the first volume in the Good & Rare series of Bing Crosby compilations, with a second volume following a year later. Now, almost a decade later, we have the third installment in the series, and as is the case with the other two, this new issue is highly recommended for any serious Crosby fan. Just like the rest of Sepia releases, this CD is up to the European company's high production and packaging quality standards, and the compilation is supervised by International Club Crosby members and Crosby specialists and collectors John Newton, David CurringtonMalcolm Macfarlane, and Wig Wiggins. Bearing in mind the age and sources of some of the material, the sound is good overall—in many instances it is excellent—and the occasional imperfections never get in the way of our listening pleasure. Even though the tracks are arranged in strict chronological order, the CD is well programmed, and each cut flows into the next with great ease.

Crosby (center) with the Rhythm Boys
As the title of the collection implies, the material included here is of undeniable rarity, most of the tracks being available on CD for the first time. The earliest cuts take us back to the late 1920s, when Crosby was a featured vocalist with the Paul Whiteman orchestra, as well as a member of Whiteman's Rhythm Boys, a trio made out of Crosby, Harry Barris, and Al Rinker. Two of the songs, "Everything's Agreed Upon" (a long-forgotten composition by Barris that does not seem to have been cut by anybody else since) and "A Bench in the Park," come from an NBC radio show starring the trio, and they clearly prove that Crosby's voice already stood out from the rest at a time when the crooner was on the verge of stardom. Other interesting recordings from this early period of Crosby's career are "Poor Little G-String," an alternate take of "Ol' Man River" with Whiteman, and "Song of the Dawn," which John Boles, and not Bing, sang in the Whiteman extravaganza, The King of Jazz. The CD is full of alternate takes of songs originally released by Decca ("After Sundown," "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," "Red Sails in the Sunset") which are often subtly different from the issued versions and show that discarded takes by Crosby are usually just as good as the versions chosen for release. The 1934 film recording of "It's Easy to Remember" included here differs greatly from the issued version, and a truncated 1944 attempt at Cole Porter's "Night and Day" is interesting because we actually get a chance to witness Crosby's reaction to his rather bouncy performance of the classic Porter ballad.

Arranger Buddy Bregman
But, in my opinion, there are two sets of tracks here that are absolutely worth the price of admission. First, there's a group of demos recorded by Bing in 1937-40 with minimal instrumental accompaniment (just John Scott Trotter on piano and Perry Botkin on guitar), including "The Moon Got in My Eyes," "Where Is Central Park?," "Beware (I'm Beginning to Care)," "East Side of Heaven," "Sing a Song of Sunbeams," "When the Moon Comes over Madison Square," and two versions of "Laugh and Call It Love." These are absolutely delightful stripped-down readings of these songs that will appeal to listeners who enjoy listening to Bing in a small-group setting. And then there are three alternate takes from Crosby's 1956 sessions with Buddy Bregman that yielded the album Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings, an entry in Bing's discography that has caused quite a division and heated debates among Crosby aficionados over the years. Although the liner notes say that these alternate takes previously "popped up on an Australian LP," they were not included in the Verve reissue of the Crosby-Bregman collaboration, so they make their first appearance on CD here. The songs are "The Blue Room," "Cheek to Cheek," and "Mountain Greenery," and again, they are only marginally different from the versions included in the original album, but they are extremely interesting for those of us who appreciate Crosby's recordings with Bregman.

John Scott Trotter and Bing Crosby

All in all, this CD will be of greater interest to the serious Crosby collector than to the casual fan, but most of the material offered here is notable not only for its rarity, but also for its consistently high musical quality. The liner notes by Mr. Macfarlane are, as always, informative, knowledgeable, and well written, and everyone involved in the production of this third volume in Sepia's Good and Rare series deserves the gratitude of all Crosby fans. Hopefully we will not have to wait another nine or ten years to see a further installment in this very appealing series.

Where to Find This Album

This CD is available from all major internet retailers and directly from the Sepia Records website here. Also, Crosby fans in the United States may obtain it by contacting Mr. Wig Wiggins via e-mail (wigbing2012 [at] gmail [dot] com) or via regular mail (5608 North 34th Street, Arlington, VA 22207).

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