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ARISTOCRAT 1103; MAY 1948

 
 

 

There’s a well-known and dreaded phenomenon called “The Sophomore Slump” that circles like a vulture over many an ambitious optimistic youngster in this world.

It was initially coined to show how during a freshman year at school the student applies themselves to their work, worried about not being able to make the grade, and thus they manage to meet their potential or perhaps even surpass it. But once they’ve settled into the lifestyle of school they tend to relax their sophomore year and perhaps party too much, or just not take it quite as seriously, thinking they can skate by and consequently their grades suffer. The general belief seems to be the kid will turn things around as juniors and seniors when they start to take it seriously again and in the long run will be alright.

The school example of the sophomore slump however is essentially predicated entirely on effort. Those who slack off will pay the price, those who keep their nose to the proverbial grindstone will maintain their GPA and not suffer a letdown in the least.

In music though, it’s rarely about effort and more about finding the right material for an artist who still might not quite know what they excel at.
 

 

Not A Tear Will Fall
Andrew Tibbs debut back in December 1947 was an impressive two-sided record that made enough noise to establish both him and Aristocrat Records as potential game changers going forward. For someone still in his teens Tibbs had shown remarkable talent both as a songwriter and a vocalist.

Both sides gave notice that he was a rising star and in the process also positioned Aristocrat Records, only recently in business, as a label to watch, as their pool of talent from Chicago gave them a definite advantage over the abundance of labels making New York City (and to a lesser extent Los Angeles) their home, who were all fighting over the same local candidates for potential stardom. Aristocrat had Chicago – at least the black community in the city – almost to themselves and were already cultivating a good relationship with the many clubs that catered to the huge influx of black residents from the south, as well as the homegrown clientele which put them in good stead moving forward.

Yet in February Tibbs’ much anticipated follow-up was a decided let-down. A quasi-cover of a year old record was obviously not original enough, not good enough to overcome its lack of musical kick, and not well played nor arranged well enough to compensate for the shallow storyline and weak lyrics.

It was an aesthetic failure as well as a commercial disappointment and with two such inexperienced hands – the label itself as well as Tibbs – there was no assurance they’d be able to turn things around and with the recording ban preventing any new experiments in the studio they’d be reliant on what he’d already laid down months earlier to right the ship.

Would this be one of rock’s first cases of a one-hit wonder?
 


 
 

Everything Is Alright
Fear not for this is tremendous.

The heavy handed piano triplets kick this off in promising fashion. Though I Feel Like Crying, as made clear by the title, is a mournful song Tibbs’ vocal chords sounds positively liberated. His sinewy voice, definitely indebted to Roy Brown but possessing an even more delicate delivery at times, breaks free of its shackles from the first few times we heard it and lays on the emotional gravitas from the beginning. He rises and falls in tone with effortless grace, “worrying” lines like the best gospel lead (remember, he was trained in gospel as a kid under Mahalia Jackson’s tutelage) and conveying the emotional burden of a man who lost his one true love as effectively as we’ve seen thus far in rock ‘n’ roll.

You knew he had it in him, even from the relative disappointment of his previous release, where his voice, his delivery, his sheer skills were never in question, but he was hamstrung by circumstance. It was obvious he just needed the right part to play on the right record and this is definitely… unquestionably IT!

Forlorn ballads don’t always get quite the respect they deserve in rock’s big picture, in part because they’re not the kind of communal celebrations that the best uptempo romps are, nor do they possess the type of longing urgency of the greatest pleas of love, but when you hear them, and are in the right frame of mind to appreciate their stark qualities, they pack an emotional wallop all the same.

Tibbs plays his role here like a seasoned veteran, someone who’s been down that dark, lonely street and knows its terrain all too well. He chooses his steps carefully, never overdoing it, refusing to let this simply turn into a cathartic exercise in grief. Instead he opens up enough to let you feel his hurt, but then keeps the rest of it under wraps, struggling to maintain his composure before having to turn away as the screen fades to black.

It’s a bravura performance and not surprisingly the song that broke him into the national consciousness, at least “officially”, as it became his first, and only, record to make the still skimpy Billboard Race Charts. But recognition for its commercial impact aside, the real recognition he’s earning with each line sung is that, already acknowledged as one of rock’s best “voices”, he’s now showing he’s also among its greatest thespians, delivering a wholly authentic performance in a very difficult part to play.
 


 

I Guess I’ll Never Feel The Same
The broken-hearten lament of despondent and emotionally ravaged lovers will go on to become one of the genre’s most challenging roles. Anyone who attempted to step into this often tricky persona for a song or two in their canons will have to at least acknowledge that Andrew Tibbs nailed the part back when rock was still largely playing in off-Broadway theaters.

Now it has to be said he’s aided mightily by the right supporting cast for a change, a welcome departure from so many early rock releases when the session players are an outright hindrance at times. Here the band keeps things tightly restrained behind him, the horns drawing out their parts in sorrowful fashion with the piano filling in with brief stop-start shifts in moods. Very sparse, but entirely effective in lending the proper atmosphere to the production.

But what you’ll come away talking about, no matter how good the scenery looks and how vital the director’s light touch, is the masterful performance of Tibbs himself in the lead role.

Every emotional nuance needed is hit on cue. When he draws out “Chiiiiiiiiiiiiild” is his light breathy range at 1:13 it’s breathtaking. The earthier sax solo that makes up the break 2/3rds of the way through leads to his big scene kicking off with an urgent “BAY-BEE, BAY-BEE, BAY-BEE” as he follows with his most impassioned vocal yet, then pulls back with aplomb to draw you in even closer for the payoff. By the time he swells in volume once more for the finale you can feel the theater about to erupt with applause.

This is a great record in every regard, an All-Star performance all around, and for Tibbs’s still evolving career it was definitive proof that rookie campaign was no fluke and that his disappointing second outing wasn’t cause for too much concern after all.

In the spring of 1948 I Feel Like Crying gives plenty of reason for optimism looking forward. With the recent upswing of instrumental rock releases carrying the weight for the entire genre this reinforces the importance of the vocal side of the equation in rock’s emerging story and is without question the best vocal performance we’ve heard around these parts in months, validating the expectations we had on Tibbs the first time we heard him.

He’s got it in him to be a superstar and from now on that’s what we’ll expect.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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