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DECCA 48069; JANUARY 1948

 
 

 

For those with us from the start of this demented project covering the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll (song by bloody song, as the subheading will remind you!), or for those who’ve joined this procession somewhere later along the parade route but who’ve doubled back to see where this all began, you likely need no reminder as to who the most astonishing discovery has been to date.

Albinia (Albennie) Jones, already a veteran performer whose work dating back to the early 1940’s had always been magnificently sung yet had the misfortune to simply be music in the wrong type of setting for her talents. When rock ‘n’ roll came along, emphasizing emotional honesty, grit, flirtation, anguish, lust and loss, Jones seized on the opportunity to redefine herself in this new medium and came away with a stunning two-sided record that showcased all of her prodigious skills.

Working with the support of two of rock’s most accomplished sidemen in pianist Sammy Price and guitarist Billy Butler, those three figures, long since shrouded by historical indifference, left no doubt that their lofty reputations in music circles at the time should by all rights have translated to widespread public acknowledgement and been far more enduring. Yet today it’s doubtful that even one of the three names would be recognizable to anyone but a few crackpots like those of us here on Spontaneous Lunacy.

Which is why seeing this next record by Albennie Jones coming up on the release schedule, one cut at the same session with the same musicians, was so eagerly anticipated here, giving us a chance to further spread the word as to what everybody had been missing.

And which is why the subpar material they were tackling, despite both sides showcasing their abilities with reasonable effectiveness, were in fact such disappointments.

In the end it’s all about perceptions, expectations and potential.
 

You Say You Love Me, Baby
I suppose what makes Albennie Jones such an alluring figure in rock’s earliest days has to do with her relative obscurity as much as her talents. It’s rare in any historical overview of something as widely popular as rock ‘n’ roll that a heretofore all but forgotten name winds up being a major contributor to its evolution. And true enough at first glance Jones’ case for her being deserving of more than just an “also-ran” designation in the official rock ledger are comparatively slim.

To start with she had no hits so her impact on the scene thus gets reduced to only whatever notices she received at the time, most of which likely weren’t recorded for posterity. She also gets no real credit for influence as she was groundbreaking only in that she was the first rock artist with two X chromosomes, not because of any radical new approach to music. Finally her career was cut short by a combination of an unfortunate stage mishap causing a fairly severe injury but also, let’s face it, relative commercial indifference that made coming back from such an ordeal not really worth anybody’s investment. By then she was an artist already in her mid-thirties who’d yet to fully connect with anything and whose greatest chance for stardom came in a music that was aiming ever younger in target demographics and so the enduring perception is that she was a rather insignificant figure on the early rock scene and nothing more.

Therefore, inevitably maybe, Albennie Jones just sort of faded away.

 

If You Should Ever Leave Me, There’ll Be Others Waiting In Line
Yet for anyone taking the time to dig deeper and find out just what she offered the results were a revelation. The Rain Is Falling was a statement of physical longing that was so emotionally gripping it could hardly be believed, while its flip Papa Tree Top Blues was almost equally effective as an acerbic kiss-off to a lover once the chemistry had faded.

Surely this was someone who was deserving of something more than just a one paragraph mention on the entire world wide web with only two out of focus photographs to serve as the only visual evidence she wasn’t simply a mirage.

For those truly interested in the allure of music, either as an art form or merely an act of commercial self-expression, it couldn’t be more obvious that Jones was a singer who not only had a great voice – full, moist and rich, like chocolate cake – but knew how to use it to maximum effect. Any conceivable attitude she was asked to project she nailed with remarkable accuracy. Whatever underlying meaning the song called for she delivered without telegraphing its arrival. All the deep seated emotions she needed to impart she could draw upon without inhibition, serving it up on a platter, naked and unashamed by the revelation.

Even going back to her pre-rock sides one sees that she had this ability all along and in fact was so good that she usually outshone the bands behind her who not incidentally just happened to often include some of the musical luminaries of the day, from Dizzy Gillespie to Don Byas. Then at last once she hooked up with Price and Butler for Decca in 1947 and plunged into the new and vibrant rock scene springing up everything came together and the possibilities seemed truly limitless.

The expectations aspect of the equation just went through the damn roof.
 

I’ll Be Forced To Put You Down
Which brings us – at last – to the records that followed that artistic breakthrough.

In the review for Give It Up Daddy Blues that adorns the flip-side of this the results were decidedly mixed. While all involved were technically excellent as usual, with Price and Butler laying down their parts with laser-like proficiency while Jones called upon every ounce of theatrical know-how at her command to inject the tawdry sentiments with the right loose, devil-may-care spirit, the problem was the song itself (which she and Price wrote) didn’t really NEED the abilities of any of them to get across its rather shallow, coarse intent.

A record like that almost would thrive more on enthusiastic amateurism, a ramshackle drunken spirit and thus in order to sell it properly they’d have to somehow convince you they weren’t particularly good musicians or that Jones wasn’t a skilled singer.

Try getting a professional athlete to be a ringer for a pick-up game in the park while trying to rein in their natural instincts so they only appear “pretty good” rather than elite so as not to blow their cover and you’ll get the idea.

I probably graded that song a little more harshly out of sheer disappointment as opposed to the results themselves. Even with the material holding them back it was still above average and I fully admit that if that record came out first, without the context of the earlier sides setting the bar so high, I could’ve been convinced to bump it to a 7 with only some modest reservations. In other words, thematic shortcomings aside it in no way brought into question her abilities as a vocalist.

But I can’t be so kind with this one. Not when Jones’ potential is being wasted on a third rate material, melodic retreads of what she’s already definitely delivered earlier, and this time around beset by the unwelcome intrusion of a horn that apparently wandered in the studio (high as a kite by the sound of it) after taking a wrong turn somewhere in 1943. The results of this unfortunate collision are muddled and bewildering.
 

 
 

Just Can’t Catch On
On paper I’m sure I Have A Way Of Lovin’ seemed like a good idea. In the three preceding sides they’d examined the stages of a relationship from various angles, The Rain Is Falling was the prelude, Papa Tree Top Blues the aftermath, while the somewhat derivative Give It Up Daddy Blues reduced “Rain” to its basest ingredients, but from within the context of an already established partnership.

So on this they tackled it from the perspective of a relationship still teetering between the two original points of view. Jones’s sexual desires are being flaunted to get her what she wants, yet the man in question is beginning to show the side of him that will eventually lead to his dismissal, if not his arrest.

The lyrics make this disturbing eventuality perfectly clear, though they downplay the seriousness of that as was befitting the more misogynistic nature of the times. In it Jones recounts how their drunken hijinks on Saturday night led to him beating her for those same transgressions when Sunday rolled around, but upon further consideration on his part he’s remorseful enough to bring her breakfast in bed on Monday morning.

Yes, grapefruit, toast and a glass of juice is certainly cause for excitement I’m sure we’ll all agree, and it’s all very well and good that he at least tries to make it up to her, but guys who assault women once will always do so again. Without turning this into a Public Service Announcement we can still come to the conclusion that this is no longer compelling as a fictional story when we’re wincing already at the repercussions of the plotline. If nothing else her erotic desires that are needed to capture our fancy simply lose their appeal in the aftermath.

Yet even if you dismiss this conclusion as a case of modern enlightenment creeping into an artifact from another time you can’t get off quite so easy with the lyrical or musical awkwardness that accompanies it all.

The biggest problem is the stanzas here simply don’t flow. Forget about the messy details of this tempestuous love affair and just focus on the scansion. Her put-downs regarding how he acts when he drinks are clumsy and Jones clearly knows this, trying to change it up on the fly when repeating the line a second time, but her options are limited because the flaw is in the writing itself (not by Albennie herself this time it should be noted). It’s a series of barely connected clichéd lines awkwardly veering between her cocky dismissal of other girls who don’t have what it takes to get a man of their own followed by admissions of how her own man, the one she’s apparently proudly crowing about to them to show off her own appeal, is in fact a complete and utter ass. It hardly seems as if the verses are from the same song! There’s no larger underlying meaning that gets revealed, not even irony which would be the only way to present this, no progression in the storyline that leads to any satisfying resolution, nor any melodic inventiveness to obscure those facts.
 

I’m Still Holding On
They often say of great singers that you’d pay to hear them sing the phone book, the implied meaning being that their voice is so good, their interpretive abilities so advanced, that literally anything coming out of their mouth would have its merits.

Jones proves that adage to be at least partially true, even here, but no matter how hard she works to overcome all of this, bad material dressed up by stellar artists is still bad material.

For once she’s not helped much by her supporting cast as Butler gets little to do on guitar making his presence only a vague and unsubstantiated rumor, and Price is reduced to playing color-by-numbers fills so as to stay awake, all while the wayward drunken horn staggers all over the place and takes up too much of the arrangement with outdated concepts of what his role should be. That leaves all of the heavy lifting to Albennie Jones herself, and despite singing a song that might actually be no better than the New York City Yellow Pages, she still somehow makes a reasonable go of this before it falls apart under the weight.
 

 
In the end not even she can fully salvage it. That would be far too much to expect from anyone. Even if you’re one of those who somehow have the ability to ignore lyrics completely and just listen to the inflections of her voice as if she were singing in a different language altogether, though the results would undoubtedly be more pleasing without the sordid plot details to get in the way, it still wouldn’t be enough to obscure the song’s myriad of other problems. She may get closer to raising this to average than anyone would dare hope but she can’t pull this completely out of the fire. The song winds up getting incinerated and her career chances suffer more third degree burns in the process.

But that doesn’t mean anybody should give up on Albennie Jones. Not by a long shot. She still is in possession of every attribute required to be a star – maybe every attribute that is but luck.

What this all shows though is that maybe some of the reasons for her modern obscurity were legitimate after all and it had nothing to do with not recognizing her talent, but rather the material, with two notable exceptions thus far, has yet to live up to her talents.

Talk about hiding a light under a bushel, unfortunately that’s shaping up to be the career epitaph of Albennie Jones at this point.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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