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DECCA 48095; JANUARY, 1949

 
 

 

After the long discourse on the top side of this record regarding the travails of trying to maintain an impartial point of view when putting all of these songs and artists under the microscope, we can sit back and just take this one as it comes.

Not overly ambitious, but not a by the numbers song churned out with little care. Not altogether original, yet with some interesting touches thrown in. Not a great record but one entirely suited for rock ‘n’ roll as 1949 came on the scene.

Ultimately though, a record which signifies the perils of not taking advantage of each and every moment you have to create something truly special.
 

 
I Want You To Call Me In The Morning
Billy Butler’s guitar that opens Hey Little Boy is unlike anything we’ve heard to date. It’s sharply played, yet seems almost drawn out, affecting a very alluring tone in the process. He’s been a constant presence on all of Jones’s records to date yet thankfully he’s been featured in many different ways which has made each of his appearances much more interesting and surprising to hear.

This one has a touch of country blues to it, something which is then negated when the horn and piano, both played in a modestly swinging style, shift the sound to something a little jazzier, sort of a smoky nightclub feel.

I can’t say either direction has HIT written all over it but any well-played variance to the normal fare is appreciated for its own sake, provided it doesn’t take the song too far outside the rock field. This certainly doesn’t do that, something that becomes much more apparent when Albennie herself enters the picture with a suggestive bent to her voice, dropping it squarely in the rock pit.
 


 
 

The slight drawback in her delivery is that it’s a little too reminiscent of previous efforts in its meter, something that was an unfortunate reality for many artists who were releasing singles months apart and more for jukebox play than radio spins or even consumer purchases to be played at home. The need for more variety of approaches wasn’t as important then simply because of how the music was dispensed. You were never getting it all at once, as with albums which packaged 12 songs at a time thus increasing the need for diversity. Instead you were having it doled out two songs at a time with long gaps in between releases and so a sense of familiarity in the sound was considered a virtue, if only to connect each of an artist’s singles in listeners minds.

But that said WHAT she’s singing is what manages to bridge the guitar/horn divergent attributes and leave no doubt where this one belongs stylistically.

Certain aspects of this are worth noting, particularly the choice to have Jones be the one who is coming on to the character in the song, rather than playing coy or hard to get, or even dismissive, all of which would be more typical roles for female singers to project. Unlike on something so urgently erotic as The Rain Is Falling, still her masterpiece to date, here she is playfully horny rather than desperately in need of a man’s touch. As a result it comes off as less serious, in a way even diminishing the impact of lines where she states We could ball every night and turn ‘em on everyday!, which in other settings might incite a riot.

Not so here. She’s saying all of this with a grin, her flirting easing the tension and in the process never letting you know for sure just how serious she really is about her desires. Though she spends the entire song trying to hook this guy you almost get the idea that he’s shot her down before. Maybe he’s already got a girl he’s thoroughly devoted to and Albennie is just trying to get a response to cast some doubt as to his faithfulness, perhaps setting up herself as a potential future catch should that relationship he’s currently in not work out in the long run.

Maybe she’s not as attractive as her voice makes her sound and thus needs to let on that she’s ready, willing and able to satisfy him in ways that more striking girls can hold back, knowing their beauty will get them all the attention they desire from men without the need put out to get it. Or maybe he’s gay and Jones finds everything else about him to be perfect and is hoping to get him to switch teams – that’d be pretty heady stuff for the late 1940’s and thus would be subtext buried under subtext but such circumstances are hardly anything new, so it’s at least remotely plausible.
 

Tell The Jury
The thing is is they’re ALL plausible scenarios along with a half dozen other possibilities. We don’t know which details are shaping this particular drama, all we have to go on is her own projection of the lines. But whatever the specifics laying under the surface she doesn’t seem to be that concerned with his response to her pleas. It’s as if she’s merely testing out her ability to draw a reaction from him and the outcome is secondary to her staying in practice in this type of seduction.

On one hand she does a great job emphasizing the salacious undercurrent of the stop-time bridge:

I want you to call me in the morning
And kiss me late at night
And when it’s stormy weather
WELL everything’s alright!

Her voice is saucy and sassy and the attitude she displays adequately conveys her basic worldview, but without the deeper emotional investment in the sentiments themselves, a sense of fully committing to the message she’s imparting, of absolutely yearning for an enthusiastic reply from him, it robs the song of some of its power. After all if she’s not exactly taking herself seriously then why should we?

But all of that is conjecture. It could just be that the song was approached in too lighthearted a fashion by all involved and this had the potential to be something every but as gut-wrenching as her best work and she merely chose to downplay it so as to offer up a different persona than one she’d already thoroughly explored.

It’s certainly understandable that she’d be growing weary of rehashing the same emotional content that Hey Little Boy called for. But the problem is no matter how unoriginal the theme was by this point for her it was still obvious what the appropriate way to handle this material was and she intentionally sidesteps that for something which winds up undercutting the lyrics just a little.

Oh, sure, you can say she’s just being playful, but that implies drawing a smile from someone, at least the listener if not the object of her desire in the song, but as much as I like Jones the singer I don’t have that response at all here.

So we turn to the musicians themselves and as seen each time out behind her we know they are as skilled as any assembled at this stage in rock and have the ability to steer her back to more solid ground, but here they seem to be pulling in opposite directions at times, failing to give the song a firmer sense of purpose.

Butler’s guitar solo midway through no longer takes on the country blues shadings it opened with and instead delivers a stinging solo, a little slack in terms of urgency, but crisp and to the point. As always Butler never overplays, every lick is perfectly judged and serves a purpose which in this case is to add a little more bite to the story. He’d go on to a long and ultimately rewarding career in rock, but always as a sideman, largely anonymous at the time and wrongly overlooked by history. There’s little doubt that his work is what helped shape and define the instrument’s role in rock ever since an here’s another prime example of that and is a highlight of the track, but not enough to make it transcendent.

I WANT to like Hey Little Boy more than I do, probably because I like her so much based on her earlier work, but while the record itself when taken as a whole is more than decent, its individual components definitely worth complimenting, it’s sabotaged a little by the tone of its approach thereby giving it no chance to be great. It becomes a song to listen to in passing more than to fully invest yourself in.
 

A Certain Little Number
What had begun so promisingly, both in this song and in Albennie Jones’ rock career, certainly fell off before long and each time out the problems that seem so easy to pinpoint remain frustratingly unaddressed by everyone involved.

What made Jones so effective was her intelligence in delivering those first few songs, yet by offering up more songs in the exact same vein – and cut at the same session – her commitment to them seems to lag. On one hand you could reasonably say in her favor that she understood the repetitiveness of the material and arrangements and tried to resist falling into a predictable pattern, which is certainly admirable. Yet on the other hand you could say that she merely lucked out on the first two we heard and her more pedestrian recitations that followed were more indicative of her talents.

I tend not to believe that but am growing unsure of whether I’m stating that with my mind or my heart. Jones still has a voice to be envied, her pre-rock sides also consistently showcase a strong interpretive ability even when surrounded by musicians who – while excellent – aren’t suited for what her strengths are, yet her skills always shined through. Within these last few sides that we’ve felt less warmly towards there’s STILL plenty of evidence as to her ability to rip off a great performance, but those performances have fallen short of expectations, even as they’ve otherwise remained perfectly good records with plenty to admire.

So what do we make of it? Is her up and down career (mostly down when it comes to commercial response) a fluke, an unfair reaction by a public unable to hear what she brings to the table, or is it the result of an equally up and down output?

A year ago I might’ve said the former, but now it’s looking to be more like the latter.

This one certainly isn’t bad, none of her sides are, but it’s also not anything truly special either and when confronted by an average, or even slightly above average, record from a singer whose talent is far above average we tend to focus on its drawbacks more than praising its virtues and that’s unfortunate.
 

 

Out Of This World
What’s so sad about this isn’t that as a song Hey Little Boy winds up not being all it could be. That’s a let down for sure but something which can be taken in stride. The real disappointment is confronting the sobering realization that artists don’t have an unlimited amount of opportunities to connect with audiences. Their windows for broad exposure are small, their time on stage is short, their chances to build a legacy are few.

When caught up in the moment itself you never quite fathom this. When each day is similar enough to the day before you don’t fully appreciate the distinct possibilities offered within until one morning you wake up and find that time has slowly slipped away. Then you want to stop and tell the projectionist of life to rewind the film and let you go back and try again, to give you one more day, one more shot at making good and forging something more meaningful.

But it doesn’t work that way. The next movie for the next artist is scheduled to play and can’t be delayed, all you can do when that happens is to look back and hope the memories you have from your all too brief time in the spotlight don’t vanish completely.

For Albennie Jones her time on screen was growing short, her opportunities were drying up, her talent alone wasn’t going to be enough to keep her working without more tangible commercial returns. She was living proof that you need to take advantage of every moment you get because eventually those moments run out and you leave this world behind.

We’d all be better off in life if we came to understand this sooner rather than later, because once gone we can never get them back again and by then it’s too late to do anything but say goodbye.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Albennie Jones for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)