Tags

No tags :(

Share it

Decca 48048; September, 1947

 

 
 

After the unexpected slow burn sexual intensity of the flip-side what on earth could Albennie Jones possibly come up with to compete with it?

Plenty!

 
Whatcha Trying To Do To Me?
Among the many hopes going into this blog was not just to thoroughly document rock’s full history from the very beginning, in the process exposing a good many songs, artists, eras and maybe even entire rock styles to the uninitiated along the way, but also to sometimes even surprise myself by rediscovering, or discovering for the first time, someone who slipped through the cracks of that history and have been all but forgotten in the years since.

As those who read the rapturous review of The Rain Is Falling on the other side of this record, Albennie Jones has already secured the first spot in those ranks for me, chronologically anyway. For while I was vaguely familiar with her and had heard songs she’d done and had been modestly impressed when casually listening to her, when sitting down to scrutinize each record I wasn’t quite prepared for how good she really was. Even this was a song that didn’t hit you between the eyes the first time through and thus demanded repeat listenings, each time absorbing it more and more until it became almost too good to believe. Eventually you even feared there’d come a point where you’d conversely find diminishing returns if you listened TOO much.

By contrast, Papa Tree Top Blues grabs you more immediately, upping the tempo and using more overt charms to work you over. In the end it may not leave quite as tight a grip on your heart but still makes quite an impression all the same.

 
Buy You A Ticket
Albinia (Albennie) Jones came from a gospel background in Mississippi, something that should be evident immediately upon hearing her passionate vocals and distinct phrasing. She first gained notice at the Elks Rendezvous Club, the famous New York joint on Lenox Avenue that also launched Louis Jordan, and though she went on to record with jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Lester Young, which shows how highly others at the time thought of her potential, frankly she’s too earthy for those settings.

All of her records from the early to mid-40’s are well done, how could they not be with the talents involved, but they’re the aural equivalent of wearing someone else’s clothes. She seems ill-fitting and uncomfortable in those surroundings. The conviction of her vocals on Evil Gal Blues is undermined by the polite mannered backing of Don Byas. When she tried reining herself in more on something like Don’t Wear No Black you wait the entire record for her to put her distinctive stamp on it, sensing she wants to, but ultimately realizing she won’t let herself for fear of overpowering the rest of them. More than seventy years later you’re still waiting. Albinia’s Blues finds her nailing notes as if wielding a hammer, yet the instrumentation daintily traipses around her afraid to get their shoes dirty. Each time there’s an audible disconnect between the parties involved. The musical motif she needed simply hadn’t been invented yet.

Now it has.

Once she hooks up with the great pianist Sammy Price and ventures into the up and coming rock spectrum she takes off, a caged bird finally allowed to fly. The results, if you haven’t caught on by now, are astounding.

 
That’s Alright, Baby
Again, as on the opening of the other side, guitarist Billy Butler virtually steals the show out of the gate on Papa Tree Top Blues. Though the intro sounds like more traditional country blues he soon gets an injection of adrenaline and starts laying down sharp, cutting riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place a decade or two later with just a little more distortion and amplification. What distances it from most of its more showy descendants however was the fact unlike so many who followed this path he never overplays, instead filling in the cracks like the master sideman he was. It’s no wonder that’s how he’d later make his mark with Bill Doggett’s crack crew in the 50’s on King Records, a group that intuitively understood the value of giving one another their own space.

Here Jones carries on an almost flirtatious give and take with Butler, prodding him on with her vocals then responding in turn to his feisty replies, each one pushing the other a little bit further until in the break she lets loose with a spirited “Owww!” followed by her urging him on, “Play that thing, Billy!”. In many ways it is the spiritual forerunner to Sam Moore calling out, “Play it, Steve!” on Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” a full twenty years later and if there WAS a stylistic offspring to Butler then it was surely Steve Cropper, another who never overplayed, always had the best and cleanest fills around and was notable as much for what he left out of an arrangement as what he put in.

That’s what makes this stand out so much too. Under the direction of Price, a bandleader who truly believed the role of the group was to support the singer, not overshadow them, the arrangement falls into place flawlessly. Each piece fitting into the larger puzzle with the largest piece, not surprisingly, belonging to Jones herself.
 


 
 

Satisfy My Soul
Having been given the platform to strut her stuff vocally she doesn’t let down. Though the song leaves little room for improvisation from the standard structure, Jones nevertheless imparts it with her spunk, attitude and wit, sounding downright dismissive of the man who “give(s) me plenty of money, but don’t give me no lovin’ at all”, in the process turning her role as the one who was scorned on its head until you get the feeling that she’s the one with all of the power in the crumbling relationship, kicking HIS sorry ass out the door and leaving no doubt she’s had enough of his neglect.

This becomes all the more notable if you’re familiar with, and compare it to, the uptown blues version delivered by Little Miss Cornshucks (a highly respected blues artist and reputedly Ahmet Ertegun’s favorite singer at the time), where Cornshucks mood is despondent, still yearning for her man’s affections as the music mournfully accompanies her in her misery. On that she was the very definition of the blues – resigned to be downhearted. By contrast Jones shows right away what was so different about rock ‘n’ roll as she sounds positively liberated by the same words, declaring defiantly, “I’ll clean my mind of any good thoughts of you!”.

It’s almost as if the feminist movement itself was born in these two and a half minutes with Jones providing the outlook that would turn the gender roles upside down. But then again, rock ‘n’ roll has always been roughly two parts music, one part attitude and here she embodies that approach to its fullest. A true trailblazer in every sense of the word.

 

 

Green Is Keen
Naturally Albennie Jones got to enjoy none of the fruits of her efforts, either financially or in terms of acclaim or historical recognition. These sides came and went without a trace, maybe because major label Decca was unsure of how to market them, or just because her own name recognition didn’t draw the initial interest that helps get a record off the ground, and of course being among the first sightings of a new stylistic hybrid with no existing fan base to court didn’t help either. But these were bold first steps in a new direction all the same and got the genre off to a solid start, artistically if nothing else.

Have no fear though, she’ll be heard from again on these pages, but sadly not nearly enough. After being badly injured in a fall from a stage in 1950, her career wound down quickly and quietly and it was left to the next generation or two of female rock singers to fully establish their rightful place within the genre. As happens all too often in music – and life in general I suppose – Jones, who cut the path they followed, would be soon forgotten. But hearing these songs from the very dawn of the music which obviously beat them all to the punch, both chronologically and stylistically, you can see that the stage they each walked out on – from Ruth Brown to Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin to Madonna, Ann Wilson to Beyoncé – was built by Jones in the first place.

Welcome to the first real surprise – in hopefully quite a long list of pleasant surprises – on Spontaneous Lunacy, the underappreciated genius of Albennie Jones. The first Queen Of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
 
 
SPONTENOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 

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