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REGAL 3246; DECEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

One of the recurring themes around these parts is how we emphasize the need for coming up with a different sounding song for the A & B sides of releases. An instrumental backed by a vocal or an uptempo song paired with a ballad.

In other words give audiences choices so that their potential rejection of one side won’t impact their ability to admire the flip side.

Record companies don’t always follow this advice and often when they do its probably an inadvertent decision owing more to the fact they have a hodgepodge of recorded tracks leftover to choose from rather than any planned strategy.

So it’s doubtful this song selection for Annie Laurie’s latest release was intentional in any way but while on the surface the two sides of Regal 3246 share a similar pacing and overall sonic effect they actually differ in a way that’s quite interesting as the other side featured a boastful theme while this is one expressing doubt.

When taken together the two could even be perceived as chapter one and two of the same ongoing story of love and loss, hope and despair.
 

 

Will Follow You Everywhere You Go
Because so few of the first generation of rock artists ever gave in-depth interviews about their careers, even the ones who lived well into the era when historical research was at a fever pitch for other periods in rock, we don’t have much to go on when trying to figure out their thinking at the time, how they viewed their work itself and whether or not they were actively trying to shape their output as they went along.

Annie Laurie lived until 2006 (!) yet good luck finding any first-hand recollections of her life’s work. What we do know therefore has to be pieced together through evidential sources and speculation. For instance she spent the first decade of her career working with Paul Gayten, another figure who lived quite a long time but wasn’t asked much about his career either. But we know Gayten was not just a bandleader who featured Laurie as his primary vocalist but was also a songwriter, pianist, arranger and producer of her work throughout that time, starting with their stint with DeLuxe, then moving onto Regal Records and finally both jumping to OKeh Records down the road.

The question we’d liked to have asked was what were Laurie’s creative decisions in their collaborations, if any? Did Gayten merely tell her what to sing, how to sing it and leave it at that, or did Laurie at the very least work out her vocals on her own before they entered the studio?

The reason why we’re so curious is because unlike the flip side, Baby What’s New, where she was pitched too high for her own good, here Laurie has settled into her comfort zone as a vocalist, a slightly throaty purr that is rife with underlying meanings that can be read into each line.

The difference is striking. On one hand you have a harsh sound which does her no favors, though she tried admirably to make it work, while on the other hand with Blue And Disgusted you find her to be relaxed and in full control of her emotions as she spins this story in effective fashion.
 

I’ve Learned My Lesson
We’ve had plenty of opportunities to study Laurie’s varying techniques over the past two years and suffice it to say what she brings to the table in talent she often squanders due to inconsistency and ill-conceived stylistic choices.

Whether it’s Gayten trying to position her midway between pop act and rocker, thus pleasing no one, or if it’s Laurie herself using an alarming scat vocal in certain songs that would frighten small children, many of the missteps seem altogether avoidable if whoever was taking control in the studio simply had done a better job of surveying the musical landscape at the time.

The biggest ongoing issue however remains how high or low she sings. When the key is placed too high her effectiveness is cut in half, rendering her somewhat whiny and even grating to the ears. She still knows HOW to sing, but she’s doing so in a voice that doesn’t suit her and how none of them could hear this is one of life’s unanswerable questions, right up there with Stonehenge and how anybody in their right mind could’ve thought Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were deserving of a Grammy for Best Rap Album in 2012 when Kendrick Lamar released perhaps the greatest album, full stop, of any artist this century that year.


 

But fear not because just as K-Dot would avenge that heisted Grammy down the road, so too would Annie Laurie right the ship on Blue And Disgusted, lowering her pitch and coming away with one of her better performances as a result, providing an amazing turnaround which should serve as a blueprint for how producers need to take a step back and judge all of their concurrent output against one another to better ascertain what works and what needs to be RE-worked before any of it hits the street.
 
 

I’ve Tried To Believe You
Right off the bat this song is helped by more appropriate instrumental backing, though it was surely the same exact musicians playing behind her. But here the saxophone takes the sultry lead-in which sets a more effective mood. Though the trumpets which marred the other side make an appearance on this side as well, they’re mostly relegated to the role of answering her individual vocal lines in a modest way, thereby keeping their worst instincts at bay.

It’s a soft, sleepy sound they’re setting with the tinkling piano of Gayten filling in the cracks and the drummer discreetly tapping the rim of his drum or lightly striking the cymbal rather than doing much thumping and cracking the skins. Even the sax solo which highlights the instrumental aspect of this is in no way trying to get your attention, which means it fits right into the mood, wrapping the song in a hazy gauze that is soothing by nature and let’s Laurie handle the heavy lifting and she doesn’t disappoint.

Some singers can get tripped up when songs are taken too slowly, almost as if they’re fighting against the very fabric of the arrangement. But here Annie Laurie seems perfectly at home, subtly playing with the tempo, lagging behind at times and then racing ahead and forcing the musicians to catch up.

They’re mostly simple tricks, all worked out in advance presumably, but she sounds so natural pulling it off that it seems spontaneous which can’t help but make more of an impact on the listener who is instinctively feeling it out for some sense of authenticity.

Laurie has long since overcome her early tendency to have a disconnect between the lyrics and her delivery and on Blue And Disgusted those elements are in perfect sync, as if she’s speaking from experience rather than reciting somebody else’s lines.

Everything about her performance is spot on, from the ache in her voice as she sighs the title line in resignation to the unmistakable annoyance in her delivery over her man’s irresponsibility as she revs it up to show her displeasure with him and the smoky tone she employs when she tells us she’s learned her lesson in all of this which colors her voice with the hard-earned confidence to face her problems head on and get rid of them… or get rid of HIM as it were.
 

Won’t Make That Mistake No More
The story itself also puts her in a solid position, for while there are plenty of songs dealing with no-good men, this one makes sure that Laurie doesn’t play the fool, giving him more chances than his actions warrant and eliminating any chance that we’ll have sympathy for her plight.

But she’s not asking for our sympathy, which is what makes Blue And Disgusted so good. Yes, she’s mad at herself for not kicking him to the curb earlier, and yeah that probably means she’s in for some mental anguish as she re-hashes this affair in her mind over the next few weeks, but she’s steadfast in her decision to move on and that’s what defines her character, and the story itself, more than anything.

For so many people that’s always the hardest step no matter how obvious it should be, to definitively come to the conclusion that somebody is a waste of their time and that they deserve far better than what their current partner is offering. It’s sad when those who should know better can’t come to this realization before they’re dragged down by the one they’re with, but when you DO understand there’s no future worth fighting for it’s a liberating feeling. Laurie for her part states her intentions so matter-of-factly that it reassures us that she’s not likely to have second thoughts about her decision which allows our sympathy to turn to full-fledged admiration.

The song never sticks too long on one sound, something epitomized by the brief tempo change of the horns after her declaration to leave, which gives it all a sense of freshness that is hardly gimmicky as it continually moves with her rather than fights against her. When Laurie then drops down to a confessional tone after the sax solo to convey the path she took – from having put up with him in the past to her decision to leave him behind which expresses itself with her rising in volume and climbing the ladder of notes at her disposal – the emotions it stirs hits home all the more powerfully.
 

No Matter How Hard I Try
She couldn’t have handled this any better, as each pause, each note she bears down on, each inflection she uses are masterfully chosen and shows why Annie Laurie, for all of her up and down performances over the past two years, was always someone you looked forward to hearing again if only to find out what she was going to try and do each time out.

Considering that her last record, Cuttin’ Out, was now riding the charts, it’s a little hard to fathom why this one didn’t at least ride its coattails onto a regional listing or two somewhere, but it didn’t thereby making it just another unfortunate obscurity in her ever expanding catalog.

We’re still waiting for Laurie, not to mention Gayten and even the Braun brothers who owned both DeLuxe and now Regal Records and presumably have some say in her releases, to settle on a consistently appropriate formula for her, but no matter how wide a swath they try to cut with her as long as she keeps churning out records as appealing as Blue And Disgusted every so often then our interest won’t wane any time soon.

It might not be the most exciting record she’s capable of delivering but it’s definitely one of the more polished and classy finished products they’ve come out with in their time together. Considering all that could’ve gone wrong here, be it the composition being too simpleminded, or the instrumental backing being poorly chosen, or Laurie herself not finding the right note (literally and figuratively) to convey these complex emotions, the fact they all DID wind up hitting their marks is a sign that somebody learned their lesson here after all.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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