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ALADDIN 3133; MAY 1952



Can a record be well-written, well-played, well-sung and well-produced and be… well… sort of underwhelming?

You’ve probably guessed the answer to that is yes, but that leads to another obvious question: If everything is done proficiently, how can this be possible? Isn’t that what people are looking for… quality recordings?

Sure they are, but sometimes we can admire something more than we like it and while in some cases your indifference might come down to taste, in many instances the real reason has to do with expectations.

Sometimes heightened expectations might be unrealistic, but when they exist it’s hard to avoid having them factor in to your reception of a record.


All My Life I’ve Been A Good Boy
It’s increasingly obvious that Amos Milburn has become a victim of his own success.

He was the best, most consistent and most popular of rock artists in the Nineteen Forties. He scored more #1 hits than any rock act else that decade and he did this by splitting his output pretty evenly between uptempo burners and soulful ballads.

He wrote great songs, and had some great ones written for him, he had the best producer in the business in Maxwell Davis, who happened to double as perhaps the best sax player of the era, and he was on a label that seemed to have a fair grasp on the market to boot.

But all that success, both commercially and aesthetically, leads to the public not feeling satisfied with more of the same out of him. We got so used to hearing first rate performances out of him that we almost become numb to them and as time passes and newer stylistic variations by more recent artists come around, it can’t help but make the same ol’ approaches of Milburn seem a little anticlimactic by comparison.

That’s the pre-emptive excuse anyway for the less than enthusiastic reception here to I Won’t Be A Fool Anymore, a song that contains a lot of what we’ve come to appreciate from both Milburn and Davis – who wrote and produced, but did not play sax on it – and yet it fails to stand out just the same.

You’ll note that as this goes up, the song – despite briefly hitting the charts in Atlanta in late June, giving Milburn a certified minor regional hit – isn’t on Spotify because it’s not found on any of the popular compilation albums of his career, showing that scores of reissue companies overlooked its qualities as well.

In other words, while there’s no glaring reason to find fault with any of it, there also doesn’t seem to be any cause to praise it beyond acknowledging how professional it all sounds.

I Won’t Let A Kiss Or Two Go To My Head
With familiar moaning saxophones over the creeping piano and drums this falls comfortably into that niche Amos Milburn has taken a long term lease out for over the past few years.

That’s not to say it’s derivative of his past work, as both the melody and the story are fresh enough, but it’s simply we’ve become accustomed to songs at this pace which are delivered with an off-handed ease that comes natural to him.

If we’re not caught off guard by it any longer, it’s easier to let our attention drift and for a song that is relying so much on the story, that’s bound to be a problem.

As you can tell by the title, I Won’t Be A Fool Anymore finds Milburn dejected over a girl who didn’t treat him right and rather than get angry about it – or cry about it – he’s simply moving on. He’s hurt, but already on the rebound emotionally.

While it’s good for his well-being that he’s not wallowing in pity, or vowing revenge or wracked with inconsolable grief, those might make for more dramatic plots as instead we’re left with him grappling with his feelings as he works out his pain verbally as if in counseling.

I’m not even sure they HAD that kind of thing back then, but Maxwell Davis would appear to be a prime candidate for leading the sessions (how did he have time to get a psychology degree with all the writing, playing and producing he was doing… did this man ever sleep?). He manages to have Milburn go to the edge of overreaction in response to being burned, yet never take the plunge to the dark side.

Of course we know with Amos he can imply every unstated emotion between the lines with his expressive voice, drawing out the words, making them sound as reflective as need be. With the horns adding to this weary vibe the record goes down easy even if we’re reacting to it like someone who’s late to catch a bus while an old pal wants to talk our ear off.

We inch away, nodding and “yupping”, hoping they’ll get the hint and let us go. It’s not that we don’t care about Amos’s plight and we certainly aren’t disparaging Davis’s craftsmanship, but it just feels for once that if we let this one fly under our radar they’ll come back with another just as good and maybe one that’s a little more upbeat or distinctive or quirky that will grab us a lot easier than this will.


Now I Know The Score
Don’t fret, Amos Milburn devotees, we’re not penalizing him TOO much for not captivating us with the record.

It’s far too smoothly done to dismiss it out of hand and it’s certainly not out of place stylistically for his own catalog or for rock itself, so we can’t dock it for missing the boat in that regard either.

But if I Won’t Be A Fool Anymore lets us down, it’s only because it doesn’t give us anything new to consider. It’s not redundant as much as it is reminiscent of so many other stellar tracks from years gone by. This is his bread and butter and yet after awhile that’s no longer going to fill us up.

Actually, the fact that we can be sort of blasé about a well-done record shows why rock ‘n’ roll was going to stick around a long time. Whereas pop music had seen its biggest stars thrive for a decade or more with little variance in their output, rock styles moved at the speed of sound which meant you had to keep up or fall behind.

Milburn’s not exactly falling behind, but he is sort of lingering in neutral a little bit, still good at what he does, even when it’s not quite fresh anymore. That doesn’t mean we’re dismissing him altogether or anything, it only means we’re starting to look elsewhere to find our next fix.


(Visit the Artist page of Amos Milburn for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)