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Zoot Sims: Down Home

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Since last August, Verse Music Group and Naxos of America have been reissuing albums originally released on the Bethlehem Records label, launched in 1953 by Gustav Wildi and thriving for several years until being absorbed by the larger King Records. Twenty titles (of the more than 250 released by Bethlehem) were rolled out digitally in the iTunes Store simultaneously, and those same albums are being doled out piecemeal on CD and vinyl. The three that comprise the second batch-albums by Bobby Troup, Zoot Sims and a Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams pairing-amplify the importance of the label, but there is room for improvement in the presentation.

The Songs of Bobby Troup, released after the iTunes launch, is a prime example. Although he was an actor, singer and pianist, Troup is best known as a songwriter-his “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” was recorded by everyone from Nat King Cole to the Rolling Stones and Depeche Mode-but in January 1955 (the back cover claims the sessions took place in September; most discographies say January) he cut an album’s worth of Johnny Mercer tunes for Bethlehem. Those tracks were apparently released as two different albums, the 12-inch, 12-song Bobby Troup Sings Johnny Mercer and a 10-inch, eight-song version that comprises this reissue. None of that convolution is made very clear in the packaging or the subpar period liner notes, and in an era that routinely sees copiously annotated deluxe reissues offering detailed session info and much more, that is unacceptable. Although the reproductions of the original cover art are charming, the packaging overall is inadequate in comparison to most of today’s elaborately appointed reissues.

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