Trawling through the obscurities of most '40s/'50s pop vocalists would be a chore, to say the least, but Jo Stafford
was not the average pop vocalist of the WWII era. Although she sounded very trad (and very beautiful) on her biggest hits -- "Long Ago and Far Away," "It Could Happen to You," "You Belong to Me" -- she could switch from beguiling balladry to swing rhythm at the drop of a hat. The Capitol Rarities 1943-1950
is an EMI compilation that includes 24 solid obscurities from her early catalog. Discovered by Johnny Mercer
began contributing as part of the Pied Pipers
and drew fame for her sweet voice as well as her ability to swing precisely in a group context. Her solo material here is pretty interesting, although the half-dozen highlights are far better than the balance. At the top of the heap lie "Jolly Jo," "Pagan Love Song," and "Prisoner of Love's Song." The first is the most radical song in Stafford
's catalog, a vocalese adventure led by her friend Dave Lambert
(later one-third of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross
), the second is a delightful Dixieland romp through an old classic, and the third is a revisitation of the cornpone classic "Temptation (Tim-Tay-Shun)" she waxed with the most hilarious hillbilly accent ever heard on record. Elsewhere, the focus is on movie songs, many of them nearly forgotten.