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You would think at a glance that the “comeback”… perhaps the third or fourth of his career so far… had been resolutely confirmed by this point.

After all Joe Turner, rock’s long sleeping giant, had re-awakened creatively in 1950 upon his arrival at Freedom Records and then followed that up by signing with Atlantic where he immediately had his renewed vitality pay off commercially with three huge hits… and this would be the fourth, cracking the Top Five over the summer.

But then again maybe we should keep in mind that he was still forty plus years old and a few great records over the last three years, only some of which were big hits, was an impressive achievement but by no means a guarantee that he was a sure bet for enduring stardom in the field just yet.

In other words there was still some work to be done and each time out he had to reaffirm his recent upward trajectory.


Please Don’t Go Astray
When the final history of rock ‘n’ roll is written – as if this project isn’t attempting that very thing as we speak – the Atlantic period of the early to mid-1950’s is going to go down as one of Big Joe Turner’s unquestioned peaks in career lasting a half century.

It was there that he scored a lot of hits, many of which are all time classic recordings, and cemented his claim as to being the unquestioned master of the rolling groove of uptempo rockers on one hand and being unrivaled at mining the depths of despair and heartache on the other.

But not all hits are created equal and while Don’t You Cry continued his commercial hot streak and contains nods to his recent benchmark recordings, this hasn’t stood the test of time in quite the same way as his earlier hits – and those still to come.

The reasons for this should be fairly obvious when you sit down to study the record which clearly became a hit in large part due to being caught in the tailwind of his recent smashes.

As with so many other labels, Atlantic found themselves artificially trying to recapture the elements of previous successes, thereby ensuring it continued his hot streak by conjuring up the images of what the audience had already warmly embraced rather than coming up with something altogether original.

For starters it was written by our old friend, the first white rock artist turned songwriter Doc Pomus who had penned Turner’s biggest hit to date in Chains Of Love. It featured an all-star cast of musicians including Harry Van Walls on piano and Freddie Mitchell sitting in on sax. Last – but hardly least – it had Turner himself at center stage with that peerless voice, mixing sadness with optimism like only he can.

The problem is the song, the arrangement and the ambition for this are decidedly second class.


No Matter What You Hear
We had plenty of opportunity to examine the often lackluster songwriting of Doc Pomus when it came to his own releases, wherein sometimes he’d have a good idea and would be too rushed, or too self-conscious, to really flesh it out.

When he turned his full attention to songwriting for others he did an about face and most of his material was exquisitely crafted and worked out to the smallest detail.

Maybe his part of the composition for Don’t You Cry meets that standard… although just barely. The narrative itself certainly isn’t bad – Joe is leaving his woman, not out of anger by any means so we’ll assume it’s for a job opportunity somewhere else, and he’s trying to reassure his wife that he’ll be back and naturally he wants her to remain true while he’s gone.

Without knowing the reason he’s going however we can’t fully identify with it but there are some well-constructed lines in there and the overall outlook remains consistent from start to finish, which means at least Pomus knew the deeper story he was telling even if he didn’t want to let us in on it.

But because it’s so vague we’re left to fill in too many blanks ourselves and consequently it can’t fully capture your heart with the story, despite Turner being the ideal singer to convey that general mood. On top of this the innocuous arrangement certainly doesn’t help matters, giving us indistinct surface impressions that suggest what we should be feeling without anything more substantial to back it up.

Even if you were to blindly accept their going through the motions, the parts themselves are below par and certainly not what we’ve come to expect from session aces like these guys. The opening horns might not be completely outdated but they’re definitely skewing towards old-fashioned if nothing else and devoid of any hook or catchy melody it doesn’t have the pathos to get us emotionally invested, nor does it have the musical pizazz to allow us to get caught up in the performances themselves.

Van Walls’ piano, which played such a vital role on previous efforts, offers up no memorable licks of its own and because of this the song such sort of lurches along unsteadily, relying far too much on Turner to steer the musical aspects with his voice.

Now it’s hard to ever complain about Big Joe’s vocals being a “problem” with a record, he could sing a Chinese Restaurants’ menu and make it sound pretty good, and to be fair his singing definitely isn’t dragging this down by any means. He’s doing his best to reflect the lyrical perspective of Don’t You Cry, his command is as good as ever and he’s navigating the uncertain pacing with a surprisingly deft touch.

The record’s downfall therefore can’t be placed on Turner’s shoulders, but rather on the sheer fact that everything about this is not only stale, but just a little bit off. They tried too hard to cut and paste ideas that worked before onto something new and somehow forgot to take the most appealing parts.

It’s the weaker sibling of Sweet Sixteen – featuring elements of The Chill Is On with a flipped-script as the set-up – without a melody, arrangement or lyrics even half as good and for once not even the mighty Big Joe can do much about it other than keep it from derailing entirely.


I Can’t Do You No Wrong…
When it comes to legendary artists there’s a tendency to forgive them for uninspired songs because it’s still the same voice you know and love while their professionalism and way with a tune enable many people to overlook the flaws as long as it’s not such a bad musical performance that it’s unlistenable.

To be sure Don’t You Cry is listenable and at various points as it’s playing you might convince yourself it’s better than it is as Turner’s indelible persona finds its way into a line here and there.

But you’re not being unduly harsh to call out a subpar record, even from somebody you admire… or somebodies, as everyone involved in this recording has pretty solid credentials to say the least.

When there’s absolutely nothing about this that approaches Turner’s well-established high standards and it’s a rather lackluster song to boot which has the added misfortune of coming along during a stretch where the average rock release has reached new heights, it’s not hard to feel let down.

Sometimes it hurts to be honest about a record’s shortcomings but that’s often the only way to tell that you’ve been fair and made sure that your affinity for those involved doesn’t cloud your judgment of what they clearly mailed in.

You can do so much better guys… don’t be upset at us for saying so, but instead be proud of the fact we expect more out of you than this.


(Visit the Artist page of Big Joe Turner for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)