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ARISTOCRAT 1105; DECEMBER, 1948

 
 

 
With only a few more records to go before we get to the 1950’s we’re going to take some time to add in a few 1940’s songs we either overlooked or intentionally avoided for various reasons when first covering this ground. It won’t take long and hopefully will paint a more vivid picture of the first era of rock as we head into the second era in the next week or two.
 

 

Each year retailers push back the start of the Christmas season a little more in order to extend the lucrative holiday shopping season that goes along with it and, like a shadow in the afternoon sun, other outlets follow suit.

The Hallmark Channel on old fashioned TV now runs Christmas movies around the clock starting November 1st even though they’re so intentionally sappy and devoid of any writing, acting or directing skill that they’re cited as the single biggest reason behind our generation’s mass exodus towards atheism.

In a similar vein the downfall of terrestrial radio came about not due to the rise of satellite radio and later streaming services this century but rather it coincided when many stations started playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving in an attempt to hypnotize hordes of people congregating in shopping malls… In fact, that’s probably also why shopping malls themselves are now empty relics of the past, a pitiful reminder of the time when people drove gas guzzling station wagons with faux wood paneling miles and miles just to be able to walk miles and miles around those indoor cages without bars.

So if you’re one of those people who bemoans seeing Christmas wreaths being hung on doors as soon as the Fourth Of July fireworks die down and are balking at the attempt to make snowmen on Labor Day weekend out of the remnants of the flavored shaved ice they sell at the beach, then this song is right up your alley.

In fact, because it was released in December before Christmas had even arrived yet, it stands as one of the few examples of trying to shut down the whole rotten consumer cycle that surrounds the season…

Unless of course you view it as the first of a new trend that seeks to get an even earlier jump on the NEXT holiday season in which case this is no better than those stupid Hallmark movies.
 

 

Got What It Takes
One of the more pleasant surprises of these early years of rock has been the sometimes startling talents of Andrew Tibbs, a vocalist of consummate skill, endearing idiosyncrasies and a deftness of touch that made him a unique presence on the scene and by all rights was someone who should’ve been a lot more successful than he was.

One of the reasons he never achieved such status was due to the all too predictable ineptitude of those around him at Aristocrat Records who utterly mishandled Tibbs’ career at every turn even though it was arguably the teenage wunderkind who put the label on form footing, not just with their first legitimate hits but also by bringing into the fold Leonard Chess who in time would take the company over and rename it after himself… upon which time he’ll jettison Tibbs altogether.

Such is the brutally unforgiving world of the record industry.

But we’re not at that point yet and so Tibbs’ fate and the course of the record company, even rock ‘n’ roll itself, is anything but certain.

Anything but certain to all but the kid at the eye of the swirling hurricane, Tibbs himself, who after a year’s absence from the studio brought about by the recording ban, steps back in front of a microphone with a song that is already looking ahead, albeit it just two and a half months from when it was recorded, to confront the post Christmas emotional let-down with a determined – and carnally selfish – optimism of The Holidays Are Over, a song that runs hot and cold in more ways than one.
 

Me And You Can Have Some Fun
Because Tibbs’ greatest attributes as a vocalist were unique for rock stemming from a gospel upbringing that gave him an intensely emotional delivery imbued with a melisimatic ache called “worrying a lyric”, he wasn’t going to be storming the gates with raucous dance fueled records, nor even shouting holy-roller style like fellow gospel-influenced star Roy Brown, and so Tibbs had to find songs that suited his strengths.

This meant largely sticking with ballads and yet unlike most of those who’d follow a similar path who were resigned to balancing the yearning inherent in the topics with a vocal restraint suited for most balladry, Tibbs was able to push against that by emphasizing the internal conflict and dialing it up to ten when the need arose, giving his songs a tension and edginess that made them just as exhilarating to hear as almost any barn-burning uptempo romp done by his competitors.

The Holidays Are Over however presents an additional twist on that approach because while he starts off singing it like it’s a lament, it quickly becomes apparent that he’s not at all downhearted about anything, in fact he’s got only one thing on his mind and that’s the present he was apparently not allowed to unwrap in front of family and friends gathered around the Christmas tree… namely his girlfriend!

Yes, folks, this is about sex, an oddly common topic in the rock world whose power of enticement is somehow so strong that we now find someone eagerly dismissing the piles of loot comprised of gaudy material objects that he’s received as gifts so he can turn his attention to a gift that keeps on giving the whole year through.

The sound it’s cloaked in is sparse and light, just a somewhat dainty piano to start with joined by trumpet-led horn section, all of which is sort of like your parents acting as if Christmas Eve is no different than August 24th when they send the kids to bed before they haul out the presents to spread around the tree. Except here the subterfuge is so that any casual listeners won’t be tipped off right away to what Tibbs is really after.

He’s being sly about it, hinting at his meaning and then pulling back before you can register a reaction. He’s helped in this cause by the candlelight dinner this aural motif conjures up, forcing you to concentrate on what he’s saying all the more. When you do focus on him though he slips in enough lines about her “new way of loving” and the fact she’s “giving the young men lessons and the old men too”, to make sure you aren’t completely misled by the modest trappings he’s framing this in.

As always his voice is the best aspect of the production, trembling, swelling, gasping and climaxing multiple times over the course of the song, putting more into this than even the most suggestive lyrics warrant. With Tibbs’ delivery the most mundane lines get a jolt of electricity when he wraps his vocal chords around them.

But therein lies the problem to an extent. The song is SO reliant on Tibbs’s prowess that the other aspects that we expect to at least try and match him wind up playing it safe and in the process leaves him standing virtually naked in the middle of the room.
 
 

 

Gonna Lose Her Head
The failure of Aristocrat Records to fully take advantage of what Andrew Tibbs had to offer encompasses a lot of separate issues, from their generally poor fidelity to how they routinely fouled up the label credits in the near future which potentially confused listeners who could hardly be expected to keep up with how the company was promoting him from one release to the next. But by far the biggest obstacle he faced when it came to his ascension to stardom was the lack of a really tough sounding streamlined band to provide musical muscle behind his dramatic leads.

The presence of quality sidemen is something that frequently is taken for granted in the first two decades of rock when a lot of artists were working without a self-contained band of their own and therefore relied on the record company providing them with accomplished, versatile and most of all appropriate musicians to give them the right platform to work from.

For the most part the best artists usually didn’t have to worry about this. Even now, still early in the game, we’ve seen how Maxwell Davis has bolstered Amos Milburn’s records with his sinewy backing, while the difference in Wynonie Harris’s output when he had a capable horn section at his disposal has been striking. Tibbs on the other hand, though he had one of those same sax players, Tom Archia, who did so much for Harris, working with him on one session last year, has generally cycled through musicians at an alarming rate, at least in the studio. As a result there’s no chance for them to really get a feel for each other, to work out over multiple sessions what works and what doesn’t and for Tibbs to be able to incorporate the band’s strengths in his own writing, knowing he’s got the right personnel to deliver the proper musical punch.

Instead the band does what they’re comfortable with and Tibbs tackles the songs in his own manner and if they click, great, but if not there’s nothing that can be done.

Such is the case with The Holidays Are Over with Sax Mallard’s group providing decidedly tepid backing. Mallard was a very talented alto sax player, arranger and bandleader who had worked for a time with the classy band of Duke Ellington but also was comfortable getting down in the blues as he’d done with Big Bill Broonzy, but while he was certainly capable of handling a variety of styles the question was how suited was he for each one?

Here he’s credited as the writer and so you’d think he’d have a better handle on how it should be framed but that’s hardly the case. The misdirection we spoke of earlier, where they seem to be playing a cocktail party while Tibbs is searching for a broom closet to get it on with his girl, wasn’t intentional, it was simply a conflict that he tried to make the best of. Because Tibbs was SO impressive we tolerated it, but all along you have to be asking yourself, imagine what a really sensuous tenor sax would do for this record!

As long as Tibbs keeps singing it’s at least possible to put the shortcomings of the band out of your mind but once he voluntarily steps aside and hands it over to the offending parties to bask in the spotlight for 45 interminable seconds you want call the whole thing off. It’s no longer just an irritating stylistic clash to briefly suffer through, it’s now taking on the form of brutal punishment for the ears.

For once we don’t even have the outdated horn section to place the blame on for they’re sitting this out, unless of course they wised up and made a break for the exits, and so we’re stuck listening to the piano stylings of Milton Ramey meant for a Valentine’s Day dance at the nursing home. There IS a second instrument here and amazingly it’s a drummer, but apparently he didn’t want to violate his parole by beating the pianist senseless with his sticks and so instead he tries beating out a distress signal in Morse Code in the hopes that someone… ANYONE… might come along and put an end to this abomination.

When Tibbs finally returns (from retching in the hallway no doubt) he delivers some of those racier lines we mentioned, but we’ve long since lost any chance for arousal because the music has all but made us impotent.
 

Put Every Dollar Down
So what do we DO with this one?

On one hand it’s another stellar vocal performance by someone we’ve come to admire greatly. Everything we look forward to hearing out of him is present, the impeccable control, the strong melisma, the alternating tenderness and desire, all of which is topped of by an interesting twist on a story with lyrics that are suggestive enough to get you smiling without being crude enough to render it one dimensional.

Yet much of that is negated by the most inappropriate backing he’s yet been saddled with. They don’t provide a single moment of substance behind him, nothing to make his work easier, not even a subtle unobtrusive presence to just keep things discreetly moving along. About the best thing we can say about them is they aren’t hitting the wrong notes or overwhelming Tibbs while he sings, but when it’s obvious that he’d have been better off with nothing but a drummer keeping time as a backing track then it doesn’t bode well for the record.

All of which leaves us with a dilemma. Though the scores given are really just meant to provide a concise summation of a two thousand word review there’s not really a number that makes sense for The Holidays Are Over.

If focusing on the primary draw of the record, Tibbs himself, you’d have a hard time claiming it wasn’t above average when compared to the run of the mill singers making up the bulk of rock releases at any given time. Yet you’d have a harder time persuading me the musical side of the equation wasn’t so sickly as to require medical attention and possible quarantine so the illness doesn’t spread and contaminate the rest of rock ‘n’ roll.

It hardly seems fair to penalize the figure who’s the focal point of the record whose reputation shouldn’t have to take another hit for events out of his control, indicating to anyone who glances at the scores here that he himself falls short in some way. But at the same time it’d be misleading if not altogether farcical to suggest the record as a whole was something to be admired and could stand as a good example of rock at its finest for this period in time.

So we’ll do what plenty of people have done throughout history when faced with similar dilemmas and split the difference even though in this case I’ll be the first to admit it’s an altogether unsatisfactory resolution. Any way you look at it this is one score that should come with an asterisk because the LAST thing you could call this record is “average”.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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