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Dinah Washington: The Fabulous Miss D: The Keynote, Decca & Mercury Singles 1943-1953

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When compact discs were still in their infancy, few if any vocalists fared better on the reissue front than Dinah Washington. Beginning in 1987, PolyGram released seven triple-disc box sets that, spanning 1946 to 1961, covered all 450 tracks Washington recorded for Mercury. Those sets are long out of print, though they remain available on iTunes. If you own them, even if only volumes one through three, you already have all but four of the 107 selections that fill this quadruple-disc salute to the first half of Washington’s illustrious, if too brief, recording career. Those four sides-“Evil Gal Blues,” “Homeward Bound,” “Salty Papa Blues” and “I Know How To Do It,” all co-written by Leonard Feather-represent Washington’s pre-Mercury solo output in its entirety, and were released on Keynote in early 1944. (Her sole Decca side, “Blow-Top Blues,” was actually a 1947 Lionel Hampton release with Washington as featured vocalist.) Apart from their obvious historical importance as Washington’s earliest commercial recordings as a solo artist, they also capture a sweeter, more vulnerable-sounding Dinah whose distinct sound was still developing. For the uninitiated, the rest of this set serves as a superlative Washington primer.

Always a marvelously dexterous vocal chameleon, Washington could holler the blues, navigate racy double entendres, cover pop hits and sell tender ballads with equal skillfulness. Consider, for instance, a February 1946 session that included both the playfully sophisticated “I Can’t Get Started” and the salaciously freewheeling “Joy Juice.” No other singer, not even Billie Holiday, could so easily bridge so wide a musical chasm. As a result, Washington filled a unique role in the evolution of popular music, providing the connective tissue between marginalized “race” music and crossover R&B (whose ripening coincided with the endpoint of this set).

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