No tags :(

Share it




Now this is more like it!

Though it was probably too laid back to make a huge impact on an increasingly jumping rock scene in 1952, as a purely artistic statement to counter any harsh rumors that Amos Milburn was becoming creatively stagnent this will more than suffice.

The fact that we just got done promoting those rumors as to his troubling decisions when it came to material doesn’t make that view wrong necessarily, it just tells you that Milburn was at a crossroads at this juncture of his career and which direction he chose to follow was going to determine his ongoing relevancy in rock as time went on.

That he may have ultimately chosen wrong doesn’t detract from the right choices he made along the way which went nowhere.


Some Lonesome Railroad Line
Since this project has many different goals beyond simply grading each record as if we were school teachers… actually that’s sometimes the least enjoyable aspect of it… we need to take a look at the events surrounding the record to put it into perspective.

The reason for this is evaluating a record is never just about how good it sounds. Music is a commercial enterprise and selling them in big quantities not only gives the artist more opportunity to keep recording, but it also theoretically gives them more freedom to pursue their own muse.

Furthermore, the success of one record shapes the future of the entire genre, not only because record labels are notorious for jumping on bandwagons, but also because other artists hear something new become successful and want to explore it for themselves and that in turn influences the up and coming generation who are just starting out to take those lessons and apply them to their own budding careers. One thing leads to another and all that and what succeeds today determines what you hear tomorrow.

To that end Trouble In Mind probably isn’t the best bet for Amos Milburn to state his case that he should still matter, simply because it’s not an original song and thus he’s not positioning himself as being ahead of the curve, but rather he’s admitting he’s lagging behind and needs better material than what he himself is coming up with currently and so he looks to the past to find it.

Yet the performance is everything we want to hear out of Milburn and to their credit Aladdin Records, who far too frequently go for the shallower inferior rip-offs of his past glories, actually saw this side as the better bet for commercial reception than the drinking themed flip side which actually became the (minor) hit in the end.

So we’re left with a record that succeeds on the aesthetic level while arguably falling a bit short on the conceptual and commercial level and as we well know, that is always cause for concern going forward when companies steer their artists back towards what sold best.


My Heart Is Beating Slow
Usually our complaints with both cover records and revivals of standards is that they’re not giving us anything new from the artist in question.

When those decisions are made for transparently mercenary reasons… trying to glom on to a current hit in another genre when it comes to cover records, or hoping to entice older audiences to check out a younger star if they’re taking something from the Great American Songbook… our disgust tends to be much more hard to quell.

But not all cases are the same and rock will have lots of great records that fall into both of those categories. So while these attempts should still raise suspicion, you have to be willing to grant them some leeway when it comes to exploring songs from outside sources like Trouble In Mind, a jazz-blues standard from the 1920’s that has its roots in tunes dating back seven decades before that even, making this one of the most enduring compositions of all time.

Yet in spite of that, it’s not as if it was actually ripe source material for a commercial push for Amos Milburn in 1952, which sort of takes the onus off him doing it. There were probably few listeners, certainly few rock fans, who’d buy it on the title alone, which means this was more a case of Milburn and his crack band wanting to tackle it because they felt they could bring something to the table, distancing it from other versions dating back to Bertha “Chippie” Hill and Louis Armstrong who defined it with their rendition a quarter century earlier.

Milburn doesn’t let us down in that regard either, his aching delivery squeezing every ounce of pathos out of the lyrics which find him on the brink of giving up on life, yet stubbornly clinging to the hope that things might turn out fine if he can just hold on a little longer.

The lyrics are profound even before anyone opens their mouth to utter them, but the way in which they’re conveyed by Milburn – halting, contemplative and with full awareness of all of their many emotional sides – definitely bring out their true power here. No matter how old they are, no matter how many people have sung them, he comes across as if they were his own thoughts and feelings being voiced in real time and that’s quite a feat.

Musically it’s no less impressive as his road band, about his third or fourth rendition of The Chickenshackers, show they were up to the task of tackling a more serious song than the usual fare. Billie Smith’s extended opening sax solo is so exquisite that even the great Maxwell Davis behind the board in the studio had to realize that he couldn’t have improved on it one iota. It’s thirty seconds of musical understatement distilled to perfection.

If the group horns in between the stanzas are a little too full, the way in which they hold back during the verses, just hinting at the melodic structure with just the faintest beat provided by Eldeen McIntosh’s drums to keep it moving forward, makes this a masterpiece of minimalist execution.

Some records make you want to shout, others make you want to cry, this one makes you hold your breath until the final notes float into the sky.


Ease My Worried Mind
Though we started off by saying this might’ve been TOO discreet to make a big impact in rock circles, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t pulling in listeners with even broader tastes… at least to start with.

The problem was he had competition, as the great Dinah Washington released a concurrent version that took the chart honors, going to #4 on the national charts in late March whereas Milburn’s didn’t enter those at all.

But we see that Milburn’s actually hit the regional charts first, in Los Angeles the last week of February and then going higher in Atlanta (#3) and Louisiana soon after. But Washington’s version soon overtook it, although both were listed together in a long run on the New York charts, and it’s easy to see which had seized the momentum, for long after Milburn’s had faded Washington’s was still riding high on regional charts in June.

Now here’s the rub. Washington recorded hers on January 18th in Los Angeles while Milburn cut his version of Trouble In Mind eleven days later, on January 29th in the same city, so we obviously can’t say she was riding his coattails if she laid hers down first.

But there’s no question that Milburn’s was actually released first, meaning he cut this on his own volition, or else someone at the L.A. studio tipped him or Aladdin off that she’d laid down a version that might make waves.

We might never know the full story – or even if there is a story at all to explain it – but what we DO know is that Amos Milburn’s version is better than even Queen Dinah, his voice more suited to the mixture of optimism and despair and the band much more in tune with that heady emotional stew.

That’s not to say that you should neglect Washington’s reading of it, which is very good, but rather that for once it looks as if the more established genres that Washington belonged to were at fault for holding back an artist who was making a bid to show he was a little deeper than some of rock’s critics would have conceded.

While it doesn’t get widely remembered today this was an ambitious reach that fell just short in terms of sales, which is the way most at the time would think was important, yet it managed to grasp the far more elusive artistic goal that probably holds up better in the long run.


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