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DELUXE 3192; OCTOBER, 1948

 
 

 

Every once in awhile around here we get the chance to be clever.

It doesn’t happen as much as we probably think it does, but in this case you have to admit that the sequencing of these songs is amusing.

Following up a Tiny Grimes record called Annie Laurie with a record BY Annie Laurie, the artist, is one of those quirky occurrences that… oh, never mind, I guess it’s not THAT clever after all.
 

 
Anyway, moving right along… Someone once sang “Thank heavens for little girls”.

That someone was not a rock ‘n’ roller, but they might as well have been speaking of rock’s early days when the roster was almost entirely male.

Among the few who bucked the trend was Annie Laurie who makes yet another appearance in the hopes of keeping rock from becoming a bastion of testosterone run amuck.

It wasn’t only the fact that she was bringing a much needed Y chromosome to the table that made Annie Laurie’s presence so welcome on the scene, it was also her success on the charts in the months just pre-dating rock’s official arrival that gave a little more credence to the potential viability of this upstart brand of music. After all if SHE could be swayed by its potential for artistic re-invention then surely that was a good sign for others contemplating whether to throw in with rock ‘n’ roll when it was little more than a noisy party behind the barn.

The ongoing fear that you have with Laurie of course is the fact that she could always return to the pop-oriented material she’d scored with out of the gate back in mid-1947 and had continued doing with some decent efforts over the next few months before shifting more of her focus to rock ‘n’ roll since the start of 1948. But the longer she went without connecting in an equal manner in rock the less DeLuxe Records might want to indulge her experiments in this field.

This concern might’ve been exacerbated by the fact she was working with Paul Gayten, both in the studio and on the bandstand, and though he was proving to be an ardent supporter of rock ‘n’ roll he was also practical enough to see the need for giving audiences something different to sink their teeth into should rock have limited appeal. Since Gayten himself seemed more suited for funkier material there was definitely the possibility that he’d steer Laurie back towards pop material himself, thereby giving his live shows more variety in what they could offer.

It’s not that she would’ve been ill-suited for that shift back towards more modest material either, she’d already shown her ability in handling that lighter fare, but let’s face it, in the late 1940’s the last thing the world needed was more female pop singers. The charts were overflowing with them as it was and because rock ‘n’ roll was in dire need of women who could slug it out with the men it made each release of hers that fell squarely in the rock realm all the more crucial to succeed, if only to prove that the gals could keep pace with the fellas which in turn would open more doors for women to make their way to rock ‘n’ roll.
 

Makes Me Want To Go
Laurie’s efforts to date have ranged from decent to very good, but even at her best – Wondering Blues – she seemed to be merely a key part of the puzzle rather than the transcendent centerpiece of it all.

That’s not entirely fair to her though and may even brush uncomfortably against a lot of insidious views that a singer who doesn’t write their own material is nothing more than pawn of the writer and producer – Gayten in this case – and, due to her gender on top of it all, the belief that she was somehow not capable of determining her own musical fate.

Hopefully that kind of nonsense can be dispensed with here, as all artists, male and female, take on a variety of tasks some of which includes helming their own material, playing their own instruments and insisting on twisting every knob and pushing every dial on the control board, while others focus only on what they do best and leave the rest of the work to those who’ve mastered their jobs.

But it does help to dispel these questions if you’re consistently stellar in the role you’ve chosen and unfortunately Laurie is still working out the kinks in her deliveries at times, whether it’s learning to convey deeper sentiments lurking just below the lyrics or better modulating her voice to draw listeners in rather than letting rip and pushing them back. In other words she remains a work in progress… talented for sure, but still perfecting her craft.

Which is why she needs Gayten to hold up his end better as well. He’s the one writing the material, leading the band and thus creating the arrangements and acting as the de facto producer, before such terms were widely used and for those tasks he’s also getting prominent label credit, so any shortcomings on these records probably fall on his shoulders as much as hers.

He’s shown time and again that he’s got some really good ideas but they often come up a bit short, almost as if he hadn’t worked them all the way through yet. You end up wishing he’d been more of a perfectionist and didn’t simply pronounce them finished and ready to be recorded until he’d applied the same effort to the rest of the song as he did to the really novel aspects that showed such promise.

That’s the case with Lonely Blues as well, a song that can be reasonably divided into two parts, one really good, one not so good. That they’re forced to share space together means there’s bound to be some heavily conflicted reactions to the record, and by extension more uneasy questions about the ability and judgment of Annie Laurie herself.
 

I Can’t Hear No Whistle Blow
You have to agree that it was awfully nice of Gayten and Laurie to separate the good and bad right down the middle, splitting the record in half as it were so we get to focus on all that’s good in one bite, then as that part of the meal settles in our stomach we can deal with our indigestion separately.

Gayten’s halting piano gives no hint as to what is to follow but he’s merely a prelude, not a vital part of the arrangement, something which becomes clear when Jack Scott leaps in on guitar, the tempo ramps up and he drags Gayten with him, as Paul now buttresses him with some stabbing keyboard work as a lead in to Laurie’s vocals.

Laurie’s voice emanates more from her head and throat than her chest which gives it a high, somewhat strained quality, although one that’s still appealing. She’s got good control, a better understanding of how best utilize different textures and tones, and her phrasing for the most part, save one brief unfortunate moment when she drops awkwardly on the line ”ain’t gonna see your faaaaace” – is well judged.

She’s not going to ever be a powerhouse, nor is she an effective chanteuse, breathlessly cooing words of love in your ear, but when it comes to delivering an unambiguous message in a straightforward no-frills way Laurie handles her business quite well. She has enough strength to make you take notice and enough subtle range to surprise you when she shifts unexpectedly in her delivery.

All of that is put to good use during the first half of Lonely Blues, an odd blend of perspectives in that ostensibly it’s a lament over missing her man who has left for some unstated reason, yet it’s delivered as if his departure is only of passing concern to her. She’s not weeping over it by any means and her longing for him is kept well under control, almost as if it’s merely a nagging sexual itch rather than something driving her crazy and forcing her to put on a brave face so as not to let others see how broken up she is over his absence.

Nope, Laurie seems not to mind much at all that he’s even gone. She treats it in a pragmatic manner at any rate, not quite unemotional maybe but keeping her deeper feelings, whatever they may be, in check.

Gayten and Scott are merely providing a basic rhythm bed for her to sing over. There are a few notes that are delivered with a little more emphasis, but they’re only punctuation to what she says, they aren’t contributing any information on their own.

But when Laurie steps aside Scott takes over with confidence and his guitar provides the flavor to this dish and provides the best moments of the record.

His playing is neat and efficient, quick runs to kick it off, notes piling on top of one another before pulling back and drawing things out, letting each note linger in your ears a bit longer. Scott seems to use the amplifier more consciously in how he plays than we’ve heard from others which gives it a fuller tone that’s an early indication as to how rock would utilize the instrument going forward. Because of that approach the technique is well removed from jazz or blues, giving this a modern feel that compliments Laurie’s self-assured singing.

As long as she sings that is…
 

A Long Way From Home
Now we have to abruptly switch gears, pull back and cringe because when Laurie returns she’s no longer singing, no longer using words – at least any language that we can decipher. Once again, as she did on Voodoo Man a few months back, she starts to scat.

At least that’s what SHE thinks she’s doing. The rest of civilization thinks she’s lost her mind, or is possessed by some alien life form. Frankly you wish it WAS some poltergeist that had overtaken her soul because at least that’d be interesting to hear and try and make some sense of, but this is just flat-out annoying as hell and makes you wish somebody pulled the plug on her microphone and let the musicians carry this to the end of the track without her.
 


 

On Paul Gayten’s Sally Lou we made mention of how artists go through phases where they hit upon something unique that they want to try and explore and see if they can find the right formula for it. Generally speaking these phases won’t last long, one or two sessions at most, but when multiple singles are drawn from those sessions and the concept they’re toying with is gimmicky and ill-conceived to begin with, like Laurie’s warped yodeling technique, then it tends to derail the artist’s work for far too long a stretch and there’s always the chance they never recover from such a needless diversion.

Fear not, Laurie will rebound from this unfortunate detour before long, putting this type of vocal gibberish back on the shelf where it belongs, but that’s of little consolation to those of us who were really digging the first half of Lonely Blues before she got hit on the head by a falling ceiling tile or something and the blow caused her to start speaking in tongues.

Gayten’s not helping matters during this stretch either, as his playing is hardly distracting us and if anything it’s only adding to the problem by highlighting her off-the-rails babbling by filling in the spaces between each “word” she spews. His solo that follows at least removes her from the equation for awhile, but whereas Scott elevated his game during his stand-alone spot, Gayten merely takes up space during his turn, his playing sounding completely uninspired, though after having his senses assaulted by Laurie’s off-kilter vocals preceding it who can really blame him for being rattled?

Any hope that Laurie would return to her senses down the stretch and at least resolve the story in a satisfactory manner is dashed rather quickly after she injects some more scatting – fewer multi-syllabic runs now, as instead she just spurts out a few jumbled letters at a time – and when she finally does come back to actual words she seems not to have fully shaken her fondness for this sort of repetitive prattle as she claims she’s ”lonely, lonely, lonely” rather than just get to the point.

But if she’s lonely she’s got no one to blame but herself. After all, if you were in the room with her when she started ranting and raving like a lunatic, would you stick around any longer than you had to?

In the end, whatever positive feelings you had for the first half of the record have long been obliterated by the travesty that was the second half and unfortunately when it comes to records half and half don’t balance out. Whichever part leaves the strongest impression on you is going to win out and on Lonely Blues it’s obviously her descent into insanity that will consume your thoughts and have you wishing for an early bout of senility to cleanse your mind completely.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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