No tags :(

Share it

REGAL 3300; OCTOBER 1950



In every generation of music there are artists who tower over the rest whose names live on in legend long after they’re gone, just as there are those with far less overall success but who had one enduring hit that will ensure they too are long remembered.

In between those two extremes are the artists who were consistently good for long stretches but never had that transcendent moment to see to it they’re immortalized in perpetuity.

Instead they are the ones who gradually fade from memory… catalog radio drops their songs from playlists, if they were ever included to begin with (Joe Tex)… compilation albums overlook their songs because the chart positions weren’t quite high enough (The “5” Royales)… their names never get brought up in arguments because they’re perceived as a niche taste (The Gap Band)… or because they were overshadowed by artists with even more impressive résumés (Big Daddy Kane)… while others get squeezed out of any recognition by the impossibly restrictive quota system for female acts (Betty Wright, The Pointer Sisters, En Vogue).

Yet these artists and dozens of others like them were the ones who churned out records that almost always found a receptive audience and were a major part of the rock soundtrack of their respective eras.

Maybe the charter member of that ignominious club was Annie Laurie… not the very first female rocker, but close to it, not the possessor of a massive hit but rather a variety of decent sized hits spanning more than a decade, not the most naturally gifted vocalist but a constantly improving stylist… and naturally all of it amounted to no lasting credit or acclaim.

Except here.


What Can I Do?
Maybe some of this historical neglect is understandable if not defensible. Annie Laurie is not the type of artist who will necessarily “Wow!” you when cherry picking a single record to use as her epitaph. Instead she’s somebody who grows on you the more you hear from her, making any deeper appreciation of what she brought to the table something acquired only through repeated examination.

That’s certainly been the case around here where her early technical glitches and uncertain handling of the emotional qualities of some of her initial releases gradually got smoothed over and in time she became someone whose upcoming entries were always a welcome sight on the docket.

Of course whenever you’re talking about Annie Laurie you’re also dealing with Paul Gayten who’d initially hired her to sing in his band and then produced, arranged and played behind her on all of her records and this past spring had a hit with her on a fantastic duet with I’ll Never Be Free, their voices complimenting each other so well that you wonder why they hadn’t done more of this.

Back on her own with Now That You’re Gone we find Laurie’s palette expanding a little more into a brassy Las Vegas styled quasi-jazz pastiche behind her impassioned vocals.

One more sign that when it came to remaining interesting, if not always commercially potent, Annie Laurie was hard to beat.


Crying Over You
This is a tale of two styles and how they mesh to set an impressive scene to start with, but also how they clash just enough to upset the delicate balance they’re trying to maintain.

The opening of this record drops you in some melodramatic film noir of the 1950’s, the horns blasting out of the speakers as it kicks off before easing back to play an ominous riff behind Laurie’s vocals as the record gets its feet under it.

Though most noirs – all good ones of the era anyway – were in black and white, this almost has a Technicolor vibe to it, so dazzling are its tonal hues as they hit you in the face. You’d say that it must’ve been inspired by something they saw in theaters but then you remember that this kind of music wasn’t featured much, if at all, on screen in that film genre until later in the decade.

But aside from perhaps inventing the concept, Now That You’re Gone uses that striking opening to impart Laurie’s state of mind as she faces the dissolution of her relationship.

It’s a standard story of course: Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they break up, then one (or both) sings about it to the world on record.

The fact that it’s framed in such a theatrical way makes this seem remarkably fresh despite having heard similar sentiments being conveyed countless times by lots of different spurned lovers. Laurie’s projection here is off-the-charts, her voice is so strong, so clear and so piercing that it gives added dimension to the lyrics. Even when she downshifts, almost pulling the ripcord on the parachute on certain lines and dropping to a throaty purr, the effect is no less impressive.

You might make a decent argument that it’s almost TOO over the top and combined with that incessant brass surrounding her it’s more of a performance piece than a bearing of the soul… someone pulling out all the stops to win a talent show rather than to express genuine emotion.

Fair enough, but there’s no doubt that Annie Laurie would WIN that talent contest hands down with such a rendition, not just for the technical execution of what she’s singing, but because within that out-sized context it’s being housed in the delivery is exactly what’s needed to match it every step of the way.

Whether that kind of ostentatious display is particularly fitting for rock ‘n’ roll in 1950 however is another matter entirely.

Everything’s Wrong?
One of the recurring themes around here in rock’s early days… a point in time that is rapidly getting smaller in the rear view mirror… is how its initial jazz-leaning inclinations had to be eradicated, or at least reconfigured, to suit a new music with a far different cultural perspective.

Because so many of the people taking part in those first couple of years worth of rock sessions were jazz expatriates and because rock had yet to fully work out its own alternative approach and musical identity across the board, there was a tendency for the producers, arrangers and musicians themselves to fall back on accepted methods of playing when pressed for time or with no other options being offered up.

Now That You’re Gone would seem on the surface to be guilty of that, for this kind of tight massed horn section was a jazz staple for more than a decade and even just the specific horns being put front and center are more at home in that genre than in rock.

But while that’s certainly indisputable, the way in which they’re played during the best sections is not your garden variety jazz. This was something conceived to be as bold as possible and in that regard it works great. This is no last minute compromise, this is intentional and forms the entire premise of the record.

The drawback to this all-out approach however becomes apparent as the record goes on and they’re forced to lay back more than is recommended as the story changes and Laurie becomes more reflective. That’s when the instruments at their disposal become something of a detriment because there’s no suitable resolution on hand for the raised stakes they established early on when Laurie was wailing in despair. As a result they have little choice but to become too discreet, too incidental to what she’s imparting.

Had they used more “suitable” instruments for a typical rock session you’d have guitars or a lone tenor sax to wind things down as she faces an uncertain tomorrow, but even with the fairly timid middle section the preceding highs are so high that you tend to overlook it.

Maybe their choices shortchanges the psychological impact of the record, but the overall listenability never suffers as a result.


Forever And A Day
One of the hallmarks of a good artist is versatility, changing up their style just enough each time out to remain a little unpredictable and this record definitely accomplishes that if nothing else.

For some it might be a little too musically indulgent to connect early on and too timid once it settles down, and for those who crave simpler more rhythmic tracks that lock them in from start to finish this surely won’t do the trick. But even if you’re among those who would prefer a different sensibility than is shown here there’s little debate that Laurie is as powerful as we’ve ever heard her sing on Now That You’re Gone and that’s to be commended.

As atypical as it was this wouldn’t be the record that defines her, but then again her more traditional records failed to keep her legacy alive either so you can hardly complain about her stretching out some just to shake things up along the way.

Whatever she did and however well she did it, Annie Laurie seemed to destined to be overlooked, undervalued and unappreciated by most. Yet in the long slow slide into relative obscurity she sure is compiling a pretty deep catalog containing some really fascinating work to pick over in the next century.


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