Swingin' with Bing! Bing Crosby's Lost Radio Performances
The public domain is well stocked with budget discs drawn from Bing Crosby's long radio career. Unfortunately, few are worth the plastic they're etched on, the usual problems including horrid sound quality and little in the way of documentation (regarding their origins) or context (regarding their relation to Crosby's career). Enter Shout! Factory to remedy the situation, hiring longtime enthusiast Ken Barnes -- who produced several sessions during Crosby's recording renaissance of the mid-'70s -- for the producer/compiler position and giving him free rein over the far-flung vaults of grubby transcription discs and tapes that comprise Crosby's radio career. The results, released as Swingin' With Bing! Bing Crosby's Lost Radio Performances, are splendid, offering clear proof of the opinion Bing Crosby fans have carried for decades: that transcriptions are a better source (or at least a more consistent one) to hear Crosby's swing smarts. Barnes paces the program with the touch and feel of an expert, selecting tracks from a wide range of time (a full decade of the postwar period) and tying them together with just a few interstices and crowd noise. (His instructions to audio restorer Peter Reynolds included "finding matching applause for the topping and tailing of each selection to give the feeling of a total production.") While the process may not be historically accurate, it makes for a wonderful program that delivers incredible performances and avoids the pitfalls of a usually exhausting 75-track box set. Many of the highlights come on the first disc with looser versions of his hit standards "Swinging On a Star" and "Don't Fence Me In." The final two discs are devoted to duets -- a staple of Crosby's show -- and include performances with a succession of old friends: Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Joe Venuti. Aside from the material, the set offers excellent fidelity and an overall sympathetic compilation to make the process of listening to a lengthy selection of Bing Crosby's non-studio sides smoother than it's ever been before.