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Roll Back by Peter Aaron

Various ArtistsThe Big Broadcast Volume 3
(Rivermont Records)

Various ArtistsThe Big Broadcast Volume 4
(Rivermont Records)

For well over 30 years, Hudson’s Rich Conaty has hosted “The Big Broadcast,” a magical, four-hour festival of 1920s and ’30s pop and jazz sounds that airs every Sunday night on New York’s WFUV-FM (and at One of radio’s true treasures, the show consistently offers ample evidence that the decades just prior to World War II make up one of the headiest epochs in popular music, the days of artfully romantic crooners a la Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby, wild and peppy hot jazz and dance bands, the cooling embers of the preceding vaudeville period, and the full flowering of the Great American Songbook under the pens of George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Johnny Mercer, and others. Perhaps the only other era to rival it was the 1960s, with its extremely familiar aspects of rebellious youth, forward-thinking musical exploration, experimentation with drugs, and the exquisite pop songcraft of Lennon and McCartney and their peers.

As an adjunct to his infectiously fun program, Conaty has lately been compiling an ongoing series of so-named CDs featuring rare 78s from his own collection and those of the show’s dedicated fans. With the flood of unearthed older material unlocked by the reissue boom you may be under the impression that everything ever released commercially is already long out on CD—but you’d be wrong. There’s literally tons of great 78 rpm-period music out there that has yet to be reissued, fantastic but forgotten records waiting to be dug up and rediscovered. And Conaty’s comps are the flapper-baiting, Charleston-chasing, bootleg flask-tippling proof.

Volume 3 unfolds with “Pianoflage,” a 1922 ragtime solo by keyboard king Roy Bargy, before ushering in hoppin’ upbeat orchestra sides by Hal Kemp, Paul Whiteman, Claude Hopkins, the Brooklyn Broadcasters, and others. Special mention goes to “A Bag of Blues” by the underrated Jack Pettis and His Pets (with guitar god Eddie Lang), and the hard-swinging “Bagpipe Stomp” by Barney Rapp and His Orchestra (with Hot Lips Page, Carl Kress, John Kirby, and George Wettling). Volume 4 continues the trend with more gate-slammers by wonderfully named units like Johnny Johnson and His Statler Pennsylvanians, plus smooth crooning by Mr. Vallee himself and hotcha! lady vocals by Kate Smith and Annette Hanshaw. Also here: Germany’s Hans Bund, small-band swing by Joe Venuti and His Blue Four, and the proto-R&B of the Three Keys. A fascinating flashback to a really incredible—and fun—musical age.—Peter Aaron

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