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MERCURY 8176; MARCH 1950

 
 

 

The term “catching lightning in a bottle” is usually offered up as a compliment of sorts, an acknowledgement that everything in a given situation broke the right way and when it happens everybody is surprised and gratified by the results.

But another way to look at it is as a fluke… an anomaly that suggests none of the participants were quite capable of repeating it.

After catching lightning on the top side of this release Alma Mondy found she couldn’t hold onto that bottle once the lightning scored her hand.
 

 

Don’t See Why I Should
Where this record went wrong is obvious enough on first listen, but what isn’t so easy to discern is just how everybody involved, from the band to the producers to Alma Mondy herself, got completely off-track so soon after hitting on all cylinders on the flawless A-side of the same single.

She wrote both songs herself and she was backed by the same musicians in the same studio on the same day and so because of that it’d stand to reason that they collectively possessed the ability to shore up any deficiencies before committing it to wax.

Yet Just As Soon As I Go Home is a record that is every bit as bad as the top side was good.

Granted the most obvious explanation for this is that the tempo and attitude of the two songs are like night and day and so you could reasonably say that Mondy was an excellent rock singer but not suited to the type of dramatic jazzy ballad this is striving to be.

Okay fair enough, but her voice itself isn’t the problem. She possesses enough power and resonance to get your attention and in isolation maybe this would come across better, but then again her judgement in how to phrase the lines is atrocious at times. Whereas on the top side she was totally in sync with the band, the two components playing off one another with unshakable confidence and skill, here they never are on the same page… nor does it sound as if they are in the same state for much of the time!

It’s almost painful to listen to as she futilely tries to pull it back together as it starts to get away from her. At times you can almost HEAR her cringing as she loses her way, yet Mondy soldiers on even though she knows this isn’t working.

Surely someone in the control booth had to have enough sympathy to call for a coffee break and gently suggest a few changes, maybe a sparser track to let her dictate the flow better, or drastically cut back on her vocals and have the band take a longer intro, a bigger instrumental break and a prolonged coda, letting Mondy just take two brief stanzas with minimal backing to keep it seeming like a group effort.

Instead they let her twist in the wind watching her suffer from behind the glass like a science experiment gone awry.
 

You Know You Done Me Wrong
Since the material itself, not to mention Mondy’s compromised delivery, are not just pitiable but also somewhat removed from rock ‘n’ roll’s main stylistic thoroughfare, the question becomes why didn’t we just ignore this side altogether, or at most simply make passing reference to it in yesterday’s review, maybe even warning people to avoid it altogether unless they had a thing for self-inflicted pain.

Well, the answer to that, maybe not surprisingly, is the presence of some of the best rock musicians in town… or at least one in particular, Lee Allen, who gets a solo that – while brief – is worthy enough for inclusion in rock circles, gritty in tone and yet not so out of place among the more placid accompaniment that it becomes jarring to hear.

Part of that is helped by the group horns that lead into it coming out of the vocals, ramping things up, slowing them back down, then revving up again so Allen has a suitable launching pad for his mini-showcase.

All told it’s nothing worth getting excited about, but at least it shows that they chose the right line of work when all was said and done. Unfortunately the rest of the track seems to indicate that they might’ve been better off working in a butcher shop or post office because every other musical attribute found on Just As Soon As I Go Home is just as awkward and uncomfortable to listen to as Mondy’s vocals.

Duke Burrell, who had played such a vital role in establishing the rhythm on Baby Get Wise with his work on the keyboards, has a much different role to play here and proves that while you may look good in flashy clothes at a sweat-filled dance hall, if you try and put on tie and tails and head into a swanky joint you aren’t always going to be able to pull it off.

Here his piano is so light, so devoid of any melodic or rhythmic urgency, that it sounds almost as if a mouse was running randomly across the keys, just heavy enough to depress them to allow the hammers to strike the strings but not forceful enough to do much good in the process.

The horns meanwhile are being forcibly constrained, left to moan, bleat and whine for their release during the bulk of the song. I guess their captor slipped out of the room for a smoke or something and they worked free of their bonds, which explains those brief moments of freedom they enjoyed during the solo, but soon the guard returns with reinforcements and tightens their shackles and forces them to play something suitable for him to nod off to so he can dream of escaping this nightmare we find ourselves in.

It’s hard to believe they were the same cats who astounded us so thoroughly before.
 


 

Don’t Mean Me No Good
Some might suggest the reason we went through with this review of a decidedly unpalatable song was to temper our enthusiasm for a singer whose reputation doesn’t justify the praise we heaped on her yesterday.

But Just As Soon As I Go Home actually serves a better purpose which is to offer up yet another example of that lightning in a bottle effect, showing just how tenuous artistic success really is.

A great record is always something to be proud of and Mondy can hold her head up high for delivering such a great performance her first time out.

Likewise anyone can release a dud like this and one bad performance is nothing that should have caused her too many sleepless nights.

But the mark of the truly talented is their consistency from one cut to the next and in that regard, while the highs and lows of her first two sides may actually average out to a good showing, the wild fluctuation between sublime and subpar probably shows why most rock fans never heard of Alma Mondy.

Unfortunately lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place… or on the same single.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Alma “Lollypop Mama” Mondy for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)