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CHESS 1430; AUGUST 1950



Whenever a new record is released the public makes a pretty quick and firm decision on the merits of that song without any real awareness or concern about what is, or isn’t, going to follow from the artist.

If the song is good, it’s bought, played and played again, and if at times a record was bought based more on past glories and wound up letting you down then it quickly got pushed aside and might serve to give you pause the next time that artist put something out.

But if you knew that an artist you’d liked in the past was releasing their last single for an extended period of time and that there would be nothing new coming down the pike for a couple of years, particularly in the singles era when you were used to getting new releases every few months, would it make you more likely to get something even you’d already heard it and it didn’t live up to your expectations?

Just asking for a friend…


Long Way From Home
At some point in the next few months (late 1950 that is) Andrew Tibbs will enter treatment for drug addiction having gotten hooked on heroin some time during his career as a professional singer over the past three years.

Drugs of course were one of the main occupational hazards of the music biz for performers who were on the road for months at a time, mostly working nights with lots of cash and few ready outlets to spend it on and equal parts boredom and peer pressure all around them to have to contend with.

Depending on your perspective of things Andrew Tibbs, the modest self-effacing teenage son of a minister, was either a surprising victim of this noxious habit or, as a naïve inexperienced kid trying to fit in with lots of people who were twice his age, a prime candidate for such a fate.

While it apparently didn’t effect his performances, at least on record where he’s been consistently impressive both as a songwriter and singer, it ultimately derailed his career and though apparently he emerged from his medical sojourn cured, never to take up dope again, he wasn’t able to bounce back commercially after drying out. Somehow, in the span of a year, he went from a rising star to a has-been without having recorded or released a single track in the interim.

Therefore the appropriately titled Aching Heart is the last we’ll hear from him in quite some time and when we encounter him again it will be as a fading voice from the recent past rather than as someone who is actively shaping the future.

Send Someone For Me
The opening to this record is strange… bordering on downright bizarre. A lone horn steps out in front, winding upwards sounding like some clichéd cinematic Middle Eastern scene…. hardly anything appropriate for rock ‘n’ roll.

But then again the song that follows is similarly an odd fit for Tibbs, an introspective ballad that relies more on establishing a vague late-night mood where you can barely see the characters in the scene when peering through the shadows and cigarette smoke that hang in the air.

To his credit Tibbs lays into this haunting aura completely with his delivery, as at times he seems to suggest the song more than actually sing it. When he does dig in his voice is as strong as ever, but his performance comes across as if we’re eavesdropping on him in his private thoughts rather than as if he were singing for our mere entertainment.

Yet despite that potentially revealing scenario Aching Heart only skims the surface of these feelings, giving us broad situations absent the all-important details to make it truly come to life. We get a great sense of Tibbs’s mood, even some indication of his overall mindset, but not quite enough action beyond the standard pain and misery over a departed love and his inability to do more than pray for things to change.

It’s also hampered somewhat by the slow pace he sings this with, which may in fact be vital to maintaining that mood but it comes at the expense of content, as some of the lines… heck, some of the words IN some of the lines… are dragged out enough to fit an entire page of lyrics in their place if it was delivered with an eye on the clock.

About all we really learn is that Tibbs is not taking matters into his own hands here to pull himself out of his despondency, but rather is so shaken by his romantic misfortune that he’s essentially using this record as a broad call for some girl to hear it, pity him and come knocking on his door.

Somehow I doubt that will result in a lasting relationship, but stranger things have happened.

If a young lady IS in the vicinity of his house though, I hope she’s not put off by the somber music coming from inside and passes him by because she afraid of walking in on somebody’s funeral.

Now I’m All Alone
There are a surprising amount of individual parts for such a stark backing track, but while some of them are fairly good, and some pretty questionable, they have trouble fitting together for much of this which puts even more pressure back on Tibbs to try and carry the load.

When that quasi-exotic opening fades, there’s three distinct horn parts layered on top of one another, a trumpet along with an alto and tenor sax, each doing their own thing and while none sound out of place for the subject, only the tenor really makes a positive impression.

Meanwhile the piano is searching for something sensible to play, settling on one little riff before changing its mind and doing something else. Only the drummer, who after being given little to do for much of the time makes the most of his brief appearances with some insistent turnarounds that keep you from nodding off.

Sax Mallard, who let’s remember actually got the lead artist credit on Aching Heart due to the uncertain long-term prospects of someone already in, or headed soon, to drug rehabilitation rather than because of anything vital that Mallard contributes to the record, does get a solo here, but it’s mostly inconsequential.

It starts off pretty well, playing with a full tone and a faint hint of urgency before those qualities recede into the haze while Mallard veers too far into a supper club motif while the piano and drums do their best to suggest a rhythm behind him.

If you’re so inclined you can sharpen your senses by trying to follow – and even transcribe – each instrument’s parts as they move into and then back out of the forefront of the arrangement, but that’s only recommended as a cure for insomnia or to pass the time during long stretches in solitary confinement, not because it’ll bring you much pleasure.

Yet in spite of the dreary atmosphere all of this provides, there’s nothing really wrong with any of the performances, from Tibbs on down. They all turn in parts that are adequate on a technical level, but just a little lacking in the emotional department. Considering all he’s going through who are we to pile on him for simply choosing a subject that mirrors his own outlook at the time.


Travelin’ And Travelin’
Maybe such a maudlin tune is appropriate for Andrew Tibbs as he heads off to get his life in order. Surely if he was whooping it up, singing joyously about a party on the other side of the tracks we would have serious doubts as to his chances for a full recovery, even if we did prefer another wild night on the town with him before he left.

By no means is Aching Heart a song that calls into questions his abilities as an artist, but it also doesn’t stand as something you’d ever really feel comfortable cuing up unless you were in a dark and lonely room some night, whiskey bottle in one hand, razor blade in the other.

If so turn the record player off, put down the instruments of slow death and call qualified personnel to help you through your crisis.

Or call newly established Chess Records and tell them that while you appreciate them issuing one last Andrew Tibbs song before he takes a much needed sabbatical from the lifestyle that got him in this mess to begin with, maybe it’d have been smarter to pair the much better top side with an instrumental instead.


(Visit the Artist page of Andrew Tibbs for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)