Out of the Vinyl Deeps

Midway through the second cut, "The Blues I Knew," I was a goner. Smith named Joe Venuti and Louis Armstrong as influences, and his brew of violin agility and sweep with brusque trumpetlike linearity, buttressed by a truckload of riffs, sets him apart, as do his nuanced blues sound and relentless— at times dizzying— swing. He crackles with melody, his own (the first 13 selections, all previously unissued, are originals) and everyone else's; he is too much given to quoting— even the theme of "Live and You'll Learn" is a succession of borrowings. As the first to amplify his violin, Smith might be considered kin to Charlie Christian, a parallel underscored by his harmonic daring, including octaves that prefigure Wes Montgomery and tritones beyond bop, let alone swing. The material with Gillespie is an apogee of mutual inspiration. On the 11-minute triumph "Rio Pakistan," taken at a loping tempo, the complicity in style and mood is uncanny. More surprising is a restored 1959 session, from which all tracks with an unknown woman singer were originally excised; the singer was Shirley Horn, 25 and quite wonderful.

While Mosaic specializes in completist editions of postwar musicians, Tom patrols the outer limits of prewar arcana— dance bands, radio singers, studio orchestras. The latest discovery of Tom's George Morrow, who did the archival restoration of minstrel Emmett Miller and a definitive three-volume edition of Frank Trumbauer, is Charlie Palloy (possibly a pseudonym), a singer and guitarist who disappeared after recording for Crown in 1932 and 1933. Those were years when the record industry almost collapsed, when labels merged and dissolved so frantically that by 1934 only two were standing— Victor, protected by the RCA network, and ARC, a holding company that picked up Columbia, Brunswick, and others at fire-sale prices. The business turned around after Decca reduced discs from 75 to 35 cents, forcing the others to conform. Before that, bargain labels offered knockoffs of pop tunes by unknown performers using stock arrangements and cheap pressings, sold in chain stores like Woolworth's for a quarter. Crown, however, was pressed by Victor, so the sound is excellent. And Palloy was a hack with a difference. Though hired to cover Bing Crosby, he was the sort of singer Crosby ran out of town, yet he had a snarky charm and savvy taste in songs (he covered "It Don't Mean a Thing" before Ellington's ink was dry). It's his guitar, however, that makes him remarkable; annotator Allan Dodge calls him a "cut-rate Crosby with a built-in Eddie Lang." At a time when guitar improvisers were rarer than good baritones, how did a member of the tiny tribe that included Lang, Lonnie Johnson, and Bobby Sherwood avoid history's radar? He croons, he scats, he swings, he winks, beating Bill Murray to his lounge act by 45 years. And he makes you wonder what else Woolworth's was selling for 25 cents.

Mosaic and Tom are mail-order companies: Mosaic is at 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902; Tom is at P.O. Box 25358, San Mateo, CA 94402.

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