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Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Bunny Hops

From the Turntable Dept.: My earliest record reviews for Metroland literally were that: reviews of records. Here’s one for an artist woefully underserved in the CD era, although I commend an excellent (but, unfortunately, out of print) Mosaic release for enough of Bunny Berigan’s work to keep you hale and happy for a while.


THE GREAT VICTOR VAULT has opened once again and grateful fans are sprinkled with 28 more cuts from the moribund Bluebird series. It's good to see these old friends again.

Someone at RCA has always been keen on providing us with historical material. The Vintage series was a single-disc series that touched on every type of pre-LP styling, from jazz to music hall to the songs of the railroad workers.

The Bluebird series came along about 13 years ago, first to encompass big bands, jazz, blues and race records, eventually just to finish the big band discographies.

When it died a few years back there was some unfinished business. The newly-revived series picks up with volume two of The Complete Bunny Berigan.

Berigan was a self-destructive trumpet star of the 30s who absorbed the groundbreaking work of Louis Armstrong, mixed it into his own unique playing and gave pulse to the bands of Dorsey and Goodman (among others).

And he led his own group for a while. It was a swinging outfit that made up in sparks what it lacked in disciplined  –  and, of course, Bunny was all over the place, soloing, singing, leading the trumpets, even doubling with the trombones, his sound was so fat.

Volume Two once again demonstrates what the first volume showed: the A & R men at Victor handed Bunny’s orchestra some of the homeliest songs ever written. But Bunny, like Fats Waller, made even the dross sparkle.

There are gems like “In a Little Spanish Town” and, of all things, “Trees,” and dogs like “Rinka Tinka Man” and “Heigh Ho.” But they all have infectious energy.

Forget any nostalgia trip. These 1937-38 sides have been digitally remastered for a clean, monaural sound that comes across much better than the badly overprocessed nonsense we’re apt to hear today.

We’re down from the original 8-cuts-per-side total of 32 to only 28, but if that’s the concession to be made to have the Bluebirds back again, I’ll make it.

Producer Steve Backer has a big job ahead of him if he really wants to whup this label back into shape – but he has a ton of good material to choose from.        

Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra: The Complete Bunny Berigan, Volume Two
(RCA Bluebird)

Metroland Magazine, 5 February 1987

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