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After examining Billy Wright’s follow up to his two-sided hit debut in yesterday’s review, here’s the actual A-side to his sophomore effort.

Most regulars here know we don’t always follow a strict A-side, B-side rule when it comes the order in which we review two sides of a given record. Often it comes down to what each one has to say to broaden our collective knowledge of the subject. But other times, including in this case, it’s merely our preference to lead with the better cut, to highlight an artist’s strengths before they settle back down to earth, reasoning that since we’re often going months between looks at an act it’s more enjoyable to hit you between the eyes with something great when we meet up with them again.

By choosing this order with Billy Wright it also made his first three entries here all well above average, something which hopefully has the uninitiated a little more anxious to read about him in the future. Unfortunately everything good comes to an end sometime and after Wright had shown almost unerring musical instinct on those first three sides he stumbles on this one.

But therein lies the other reason we chose to cover this one last, and maybe the only reason with actual editorial instinct, for it’s only after really establishing how smart his choices had been leading up to this can we really put into perspective the slight missteps he makes here.

Fear not though because even mediocre Billy Wright at this stage is better than many run-of-the-mill performances by other artists. Besides, maybe it’s even good in a way that he falls short of his previous highs, for as we all know being infallible can get on anybody’s nerves.


Tried To Treat You Nice And Kind
When Billy Wright was first spotted on stage in Atlanta by Savoy recording star Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams at a show the saxophonist was headlining with fellow rock star Wynonie Harris, the teenager’s vocal talents were plainly obvious. The kid could flat out sing.

Signed to the label Williams was recording for, Savoy, producer Teddy Reig flew to Atlanta to cut a session and launch his career. However Wright hadn’t any material prepared when all of this happened. He was singing other people’s songs as a local warm-up act for the big name national stars and so as an inexperienced writer he did what so many others did – stole ideas, if not entire songs, until he got the knack of it.

You Satisfy was a cover record, but one which stood out because he re-arranged it in a way that built the tension to unbearable heights.

His original ideas were more predictable, though still showed flashes of inspiration at times, yet he was such a good singer and they had scrumptious melodies that their positive reception was all but assured.

Not so much this time though.

I Keep Drinkin’ finds Wright running dry of originality both in its topic and in its sentiments. Again there are lines that we feel as though we’ve heard before, at least in spirit if not word for word.

But more than that, this side gives the impression that they’re going through the motions to a degree, a creeping overconfidence that his earlier success has ensured a level of interest that they all are banking on to get them a pass on the somewhat second rate material and a rather uninspired arrangement and as we already well know that is a recipe for slipping back to the pack in a hurry.


Sleepin’ All By Yourself
The piano that opens the song sounds like a safe fall back position for those short of ideas. It doesn’t do anything wrong per say but it also doesn’t offer up something to make you sit up and take notice. Rather than come across as invigorating it seems a lackluster choice to make even if technically it’s one that’s still reasonably appropriate for what follows.

Appropriate maybe, but hardly inspiring. Kind of like the horns that join it soon, playing a droning riff with no energy, no personality, no spark. They’re also flat sounding, not their notes but their presence. Horns are supposed to jump out at you, to grab you by the lapels and shake you up. Even outdated big band charts, as out of place as they always are in rock, still have that aim in mind. But these are just sort of lifeless… or at best on life support.

Worse still is nothing comes along to kick this up a gear. The drummer is probably the most vigorous of the instruments but he’s given little to do. We get a bass solo in the close, which is always interesting if nothing else, but in this case “nothing else” is the overriding theme for the entire backing.

All of that only puts more pressure on Wright himself to salvage I Keep Drinkin’. For starters it’s a despondent theme he’s tackling – this is no celebratory drinking he’s describing, but rather he’s drinking to forget the (married) woman he loves who wants nothing to do with him – and so that doesn’t give him much room to really stretch out and inject some vitality in the song.

Yes, he’s down in the dumps, and yes, we might even sympathize with him to a degree. I’m sure most people have, at one time or another, fallen for someone already taken and that can make for a lot of misery knowing you don’t even have a chance to win them for yourself. He’s not really imploring her to cheat on her old man so we can’t find fault with his ethics. But while he lets this information slowly unfold over the course of the song there’s no real build-up/payoff to it either.

It’s fairly well told, the little details are nice, but without anything for the performance to hinge on, an emotional middle eight to shift the drama (both musical and thematic) or escalating despair that is finally released in the end, all we’re doing is acting as the casually disinterested third party. We can’t just tell him to shut up and get over it because it’s obvious he’s broken up over something that’s not exactly anybody’s fault, but we also don’t want to have to suffer along with him as he goes on and on about how much he loves her and how unfair life is to want someone out of reach.

But let’s not forget, this is still is Billy Wright we’re talking about, someone possessing one of the better natural voices we’ve encountered in rock so far, who also just happened to be able to mine the emotional nuances of these types of performances better than most. If the material wasn’t great he was still capable of extracting from it as much as anybody and for the most part he does so here.

Unlike some singers with impressive pipes or a go-to vocal approach Wright doesn’t rely on gimmicks or showboating to try and (over)sell this. Instead he mines the emotional turmoil he’s written about for all its worth, keeping his composure even as he becomes more internally distraught.

It’s a fine line but he walks it well, holding some notes, bearing down hard on others, deftly altering cadences, occasionally tossing in a different word or two in order to keep it fresh when repeating a line, and even though we can’t fully recommend the final product, we can’t find much fault in Wright’s handling of it.


If You Can’t Get It When You Want It
Wright had cut multiple songs on this date and the only real question worth asking is why Savoy felt this was the best choice for a follow-up to his stunning debut. I’ll venture a guess to say it was a fair approximation of the mood those other songs showcased, but when those songs are still riding territorial charts then something like I Keep Drinkin’ can only pale in comparison and it might be better for everyone involved to hold off on issuing anything that might derail his momentum and give pause for those worried his first efforts were something of a fluke.

They weren’t of course, but in a singles era it was all the more important to follow-up strength with strength. The other side of this more than suffices, and we’ll say with conviction that song should’ve been a hit thereby rendering this side merely an afterthought, but Savoy wasn’t pushing that side, they had their hopes pinned on this. But even so they didn’t run one ad in the trades to even announce this record was available, another baffling decision in an industry where “baffling” was about the nicest thing you can say about some of their moves.

I suppose you can look at it being just one missed shot creatively in four attempts and obviously that’s hardly a bad success rate, but with high hopes inevitably come bigger disappointments and so we’re left to keep looking for someone whose solid showings and good fortunes seem to have no end in sight.


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