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REGAL 3246; DECEMBER, 1949



It seems hard to believe that the most prolific female artist thus far in rock ‘n’ roll is only now enjoying her first legitimate rock hit on the national charts but I suppose that’s the risk you take when you vacillate between a lot of different approaches during that time.

Rather than build an audience by doubling down on what they felt worked best, the prevailing wisdom with Annie Laurie’s career seemed to be to throw as many different things against the wall in the hopes that one of them stuck.

This one, the follow up to her hit, was one of those that didn’t stick and instead slid back down that wall.


I Hope You Haven’t Done Me No Wrong
One of the interesting questions to ponder when it comes to artists is if stylistic versatility is always a virtue or if it might be wiser to hone in on just one course of action and establish a solid and consistent image.

Take for example two of the handful of female artists in rock ‘n’ roll to date, both operating out of New Orleans, both backed by Paul Gayten, both recording first for DeLuxe and then for Regal Records and both who scored hits right out of the gate with their first releases.

Chubby Newsom was considered by many to be a one-trick pony, but oh what a trick it was, flaunting her curves on stage and emphasizing her sex appeal in song which revved the motors of male listeners and made her a huge draw in clubs for a number of years. Yet in spite of notching a hit with her debut, Hip Shakin’ Mama, the very first nationally charted rock record by a female artist, she was unable to score another in spite of some very good releases, perhaps because of the perception she was just regurgitating the same shtick.

By contrast Annie Laurie also had a hit her first time out, a year and a half earlier with a fine rendition of the pop standard Since I Fell For You. When rock came along a few months later she moved into that field and was able to successfully adapt her style to fit the new idiom but they were unsure of which attributes to emphasize and so they tried something different virtually every time you heard her. But finally on her last release prior to this, Cuttin’ Out, Laurie got her first national hit with a rock record and it seemed as if they’d finally settled on the right approach.

They didn’t. In spite of that success they continued to run the stylistic gamut after that breakthrough, keeping listeners off balance each time out thereby undercutting her own momentum and preventing her from ever really establishing a bankable image.

Though her career would wind up being far more prolific than Newsom’s which did result in more hit records and a lot longer run as a viable recording artist on a multitude of bigger labels, she probably never really made as big of an impact as the supposedly one-dimensional bombshell Chubby Newsom did. Sometimes it may actually be more advantageous to just define one thing better than anyone and let that serve as your calling card each time out.

Is that repetitive? Yeah, maybe. But is it distinctive? Absolutely, and that was the key.

Laurie by contrast, though her voice and delivery are always unmistakably hers, often is beholden to the song, the arrangement and the backing of Gayten to tell us what type of a record it’s going to be.

Case in point, Baby What’s New which finds her saddled with an arrangement that hints at a daintier image at times without her able to fully adjust her thinking to make it into a full-fledged pop tune, yet at the same time not being enough of a commanding presence to wrest control of it from the band and forcibly drag it all the way back into the rock field by herself.

As a result this becomes another song stuck uneasily between two worlds.

Let Me Thrill To All Of Your Charms
At her best Annie Laurie was a sensitive and expressive vocalist, especially when she stuck to her mid-range tones and eased back on its projection. But at other times, mostly whenever she was pitched just slightly too high, her voice could be shrill which had a tendency to strip it of the emotional shadings she needed to convey and left the songs sounding all too similar. This could obviously be corrected by simply changing the key it’s in to keep her more in her comfort zone, but for some reason Paul Gayten, a brilliant songwriter, bandleader and producer, kept trying to tweak the formula to try and find something else for her to tackle and it rarely worked out well.

That’s not to say that Laurie is ever unlistenable, or that Baby What’s New doesn’t have elements to admire, but it’s hard to get past the fact that it starts her in a hole that she’s constantly trying to climb out of but is unable to fully do so because of where her voice is situated. In a way it’s like having a basketball player who doesn’t have the range to shoot three pointers consistently and putting them in the lineup when you need to space the floor with five three point shooters. Defenses will immediately sag off him and will be able to attack the other shooters more aggressively because he doesn’t have to be guarded closely since he’s not a threat from long distance.

Here Laurie, freshly back in town after an extended absence, needs to convince a guy to rekindle the romance they had before she went away (for a vacation, for a jail sentence, maybe moving to another town for better business opportunities… she doesn’t say, but we know she didn’t leave for voice lessons at any rate).

She’s not quite begging him to hook up but she’s also not playing too hard to get which would probably be a more effective technique for landing him, not to mention giving us more to consider when assessing the song itself. Rather than lay her cards on the table so blatantly for all to see it’d be smarter to make us try and figure out her hole card to keep us off-balance. Without that strategy being employed in the lyrics we’re able to pin her entire persona down in mere moments after hearing her entrance and it makes her a less interesting and even slightly less appealing character than she might’ve been had she shown a bit more ambiguity about her true desires.

Not all of these missteps can be laid at Laurie’s feet however because of how the song itself is crafted, which is where we turn our scrutiny on Paul Gayten, the man who similarly was entirely capable of reaching some lofty heights but also had his share of unfortunate slip-ups along the way that easily could’ve been avoided had he been more narrowly focused with trying to maximize his – and Laurie’s – potential.

Think Of All I’ve Been Missing
To be fair when Gayten was starting out rock ‘n’ roll itself didn’t exist but was only a glimmer in someone’s eye. That the someone may have been Gayten himself, whose early effort Your Hands Ain’t Clean pointed the way to tomorrow quite effectively, is what made his eventual shift to rocker seem natural rather than forced. Because of that you’d think he’d be someone willing to go all-in on the genre each time out, but instead Gayten frequently reached back to older musical concepts, almost as if he was hedging his bets in case the bottom suddenly fell out on rock ‘n’ roll.

Of course Gayten was also someone who was proud of his band’s musicianship and of his own ability to play jazz, blues or pop and so it stands to reason that he’d want to flex those creative muscles from time to time, not only so they didn’t atrophy but also because he’d take pride in showcasing his own diversity.

But Baby What’s New is clearly not the place to do so. If anything it weakens his claim to being one of the rising stars in the growing field of artist/producers in rock, simply because his choices negate most of Laurie’s strengths as a singer and maybe even more damning is the fact it places the record a few years behind the curve in the rapidly evolving musical landscape.

Problem number one should come as no surprise – it’s the trumpets. Those dastardly instruments of starched collar inflicted death are the main accompaniment here and their tone, also high and shrill, pull Laurie in that same direction to nobody’s benefit. A saxophone on the other hand would’ve allowed Laurie to keep her voice within her wheelhouse in terms of range and voila most of your problems are solved without having to make another change.

But it’s not just the tonal qualities of the instruments that make them ill-suited for this record, it’s also the image they conjure up of supper clubs and black tie and tails which render this ineffective to win over the rock audience who have been faithfully supporting Annie Laurie for the past two years in spite of her ups and downs.

Gayten’s not helping matters with his own light-fingered piano fills which are sleep inducing no matter how nimble his playing may be. It needs a more convincing bottom to at least balance things out, but do we get any drums, a thumping bass or an electric guitar to slice through the haze?

Nope, nada, zilch.

When we finally get some small measure of relief by means of a saxophone break it’s largely wasted by being forced to play too slowly and without much melodic thrust, left instead to wheeze along asthmatically with no rhythmic underpinning to keep us focused.

There’s nothing to lock this down, to keep it tethered to the ground musically or emotionally, and so our attention – and the song itself – drifts away without a fight.

I Could Use Quite A Few
With such self-inflicted wounds you’d expect an outright dismissal of all involved but we’re going to be a little more generous than that.

Yes, Gayten’s musical framework gives this little chance to be aesthetically successful but in 1949 there may still have been a market for this which conceivably might’ve made Baby What’s New modestly successful commercially. Granted it’d be with a slightly different audience than our ilk, but considering Laurie’s reputation they still might’ve pulled in some interest with the rock crowd to bolster its sales should an older and more stuck-up and deaf… cultured and refined… audience taken to it.

Furthermore, while Laurie might be in a no-win situation here with such a poorly chosen arrangement, she admirably sticks with it, focused on trying to make it work throughout through sheer effort alone. The ship may indeed be sinking on her but she keeps bailing out the water hoping to stay afloat.

With that in mind we’ll at least let her reach the shore and help her back on dry land, a bit soggy maybe but no worse for the wear.



(Visit the Artist page of Annie Laurie for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)