No tags :(

Share it

SAVOY 741; APRIL 1950



One of the surest signs you’ve heard an explosion in the distance is the eerie calm that follows it… sometimes just momentarily before people have time to react, other times the commotion is permanently silenced by the impact.

In music of course there’s not quite the same life or death consequences but there’s always a delayed reaction to something new and explosive by other artists, producers and record companies who aren’t quite sure how to react, but also at times there’s a pause from the artist who caused the ruckus in the first place, as if they’re stepping back in awe of what they just unleashed.

Here it’s the comparatively serene return to a ballad, the kind of which had provided Billy Wright his primary exposure to date, restoring a sense of order to the proceedings following his musical detonation on the flip side.

But after such a big bang in which we glimpsed the future transformation of rock ‘n’ roll suddenly the more restrained offerings like this don’t seem quite as impactful anymore.


I Don’t Want Anything
Of course none of this was planned, it just worked out that way, two-sided records needed two songs, preferably which showcased two different approaches the artist used. It’s only natural that with such a maniacal orgy of sounds on the one side you’d want to offer up something slower and more introspective on the flip.

So there was no planning for this by Wright or anyone else involved, no need to examine their mindsets or contemplate their long-range thinking. Wright was in the business of cutting records and Savoy was in the business of selling them, pairing two songs which would give them the most value for their efforts.

But that being the case there can be little doubt that Heavy Hearted Blues was decidedly less valuable than something as earth-shaking as After Dark Blues… even if there still was a huge market for these kind of downcast songs, especially by an artist who could deliver them with such dramatic intensity as Billy Wright.

The problem is while this side contains all of the attributes that Wright specialized in – the emotional urgency, the despondent outlook, the passionate vocals wringing out every drop of conflict he has in his heart and the tried and true downcast support of the arrangement – the difference between it and what we’ve already heard on the other side seems less like night and day and more like last year and next decade.


Sick Deep Down Inside
Though Wright is working with the same group of musicians who attacked their roles with such relish on other songs, here their job is to be mostly deferential to the somber mood, a simpler task to fulfill maybe but a more difficult one to make a good impression with, no matter what components they use.

Unfortunately they choose the wrong components – or at least rather unimaginative ones – starting with those crying horns. Not only are they dated by their tonal qualities but they’re less impactful because we’ve heard them playing the same role for longer than we care to remember. They’re the designated Fat Guy #2 role in a hundred TV shows and movies where the same actor with the same mustache says roughly the same thing with the same expression. It works well enough to keep using him, but there’s a reason he’s not getting leading roles or more varied character parts even.

The same is true with these horns. They’ve carved out a small but most inconsequential terrain in rock that is growing ever less crucial by the day and when they’re called on to play their part on Heavy Hearted Blues they do it well enough to pass muster in the studio but are unable to bring anything new to the table to stir the passions of the listeners and as a result it’s only a matter of time before they’re replaced… not with different musicians but rather with different horns… or guitars… or bassoons maybe. Anything to add a different wrinkle to the fabric rock’s using.

The others backing Wright don’t add much of their own either, the piano taking on the task of providing the rhythm with a plodding left hand while adding melodic accents with a stabbing right hand, none of which you really notice and none of which you’d miss much if it disappeared entirely.

Laughing To Keep From Crying
Thematically this is also a record that offers little we haven’t heard before. Another failed romance leading to another poor singer’s broken heart, all told in a way that is sincere enough, yet which doesn’t seize our imaginations with any clever wordplay or unexpected plot twists. It’s a reasonably effective by-the-numbers rock ballad, but it’s also one which by the spring of 1950 doesn’t have quite the same impact it would’ve had say two years earlier when these types of naked displays of emotional despair were much more shocking to our ears.

But Heavy Hearted Blues isn’t a BAD record in spite of that underwhelming scouting report. True none of its aspects are great but neither are they terrible. Everything is carried out with reasonable skill and the song itself is serviceable for what they’re trying to do, which is create a scene in which Billy Wright can emote for all he’s worth.

And THAT’S where this excels, giving the record just enough of a kick to get make it fit right in with the rest of the also-rans in rock releases of late.

Wright’s vocals are – as usual with him – bordering on parody while never crossing that line completely. If he WERE an actor there’d be a note in his file that said he does “anguish” better than any other thespian and so naturally that’s what he’s calling on here to help rescue the song from anonymity.

Each sentiment he shades with the right hue of blue, from the darker tints of his moments of despair to the lighter colors as he tries to explain and rationalize his sorrow without burdening the listener who has to feign sympathy the longer he goes on.

It’s a tricky balancing act but one which Wright is able to carry off because he’s so committed to the part, living and breathing the words in a way which forces you to take them – and him – seriously. While it may be a far better acting job than is found in bigger pictures, the flimsy scenery and wooden support he’s surrounded by on this set won’t help him win any awards for his efforts and so this kind of record is likely to go in and out of theaters in a matter of days.

Come Back Baby Do
The law of diminishing returns in music is something most record companies and even artists sometime fail to grasp until it’s too late, sticking with successful formula while hoping nobody notices the same script being recycled.

The problem becomes more acute when a new production – such as what Wright starred in on the other show of this double feature with After Hours Blues – winds up being so much more enticing.

One listen to that was all you needed to tell you that you were getting a glimpse into the future of rock ‘n’ roll whereas Heavy Hearted Blues only reminded you of what you were about to leave behind from the recent past.

Even though records like this had served us well during a long eventful stretch when rock became ever more entrenched in society, it’s no secret that music fans are hardly the patient sort to begin with and so when given the chance at hearing the next big explosion or lingering a while longer in the calmer tranquility of yesterday it shouldn’t be hard to guess which side you’ll wind up choosing.


(Visit the Artist page of Billy Wright for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)