This may not be the place for someone unfamiliar with Crosby to make his acquaintance, but it's a fascinating find for a Crosby collector, even for a fan who has already acquired "Bing: The Legendary Years" and "It's Easy to Remember" (an economical box set on the British Proper label). Most of the tunes are not commercial recordings--instead, they were rejects, or personal gifts to a single individual, or intended exclusively for military use. All the same, some of the performances are first rate, making the listener wonder why they would not have been selected as master copies, whether as studio recordings or radio show numbers. The performances also demonstrate Bing's great resourcefulness and flexibility. Unlike Frank, who practically insisted on full orchestras with fleshed-out arrangements, Bing is equally comfortable singing with a trio (Buddy Cole, Les Paul, etc.) and, in some cases, without any assistance beyond his interpretive skills and whistling talents. It's a good thing that Bing is quite explicit in identifying "Pledging My Love" as a "rock 'n roll" number because it's doubtful many listeners will associate the song with the music of the Beatles, Stones, or even Elvis. Wisely, Bing demurs at the opportunity to say whether the music would endure or prove a passing fad.
No doubt the most curious detail about this 2-disc collection is the absence of any distinction whatsoever between the two platters (how about a 1 and a 2? an A and a B? a plus and a minus? an Obama disc and a Palin disc? or, if only to avoid any hint of partisanship, a "Bing" and a "Crosby?").
As the well-written, clear and to-the-point album notes make clear, in addition to the recordings themselves, Bing's apparent "casualness" as Mr. American Everyman, could be highly deceptive. He was naturally gifted, of course, but he was also, somewhat like Sinatra, a "driven" artist, intent on honing his craft. This trait extended to his close attention to technology as well as his meticulous organization of undoubtedly the world's most abundant library of everything recorded by Crosby himself. He was, indeed, a visionary in both areas. As has been documented by Gary Giddins and others, it was Bing who was largely responsible for the introduction of magnetic tape to the American recording industry (Les Paul, among many others, certainly owes him a huge debt), and like Les, Bing was multitracking many of his performances in the 1950s, even using stereo set-ups for monaural recordings, knowing the final results of his efforts would not be heard until years later (like about 2011.). The writers even suggest that had Bing been recording shows in the '80's and '90's, it's not unlikely he would have had the foresight to do them in "hi def," even if the result would not be available for a generation or two to come! Finally, the very availability--not to mention accessibility--of these private recordings would not have been possible had their maker simply made them on the run, the better to spend the rest of his time at the track or on the back 9 or taking in a 3-hour exhibition by the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, of which Bing was partial owner. Before the pleasure came the diligence and discipline (small wonder his sons had mixed views about their father's ways and expectations).
At the same time, credit for the better-than-expected audio quality of these recordings frequently belongs to others (who may have been directed by Bing), like his orchestra director John Scott Trotter, who had the presence of mind to record even Bing's "out-takes" on state-of-the-art equipment. Contrary to many popular assumptions, many of these recordings are not so-called "air shots" (i.e. low-frequency recordings taken directly from an AM broadcast). In most cases, they represent Bing's voice "up close and personal," sounding as fresh as studio recordings made yesterday.
This is the 3rd album I've picked up since the Crosby estate has graciously made these discs available to the general public, and I have yet to hear one that sounds thin, distant, or "fringy." Look for several more of the same to appear on Jan. 25 (I've placed my pre-orders, which I believe not only assures rapid delivery but guarantees the price). It would indeed be a shame if the public's short-term memory when it comes to Bing himself (as somewhat painfully recorded by Giddins in the opening pages of his Crosby bio "A Pocketful of Miracles") extended to the extraordinary recordings that have at this moment miraculously descended upon us like a time capsule from the past--but a package intended for listeners' enjoyment right now, at the beginning of the second decade of the new millennium. One thing is certain: for any listener sensing the need for a bastion of sanity and stability at a time of increasing confusion and stress, this package could not have appeared at a better moment.