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Though it’s highly doubtful that the title was intended as such, there’s an undeniable urge while listening to this to do as it suggests and spark one up because that might be the only thing that has the potential to transform a generic song being sung in a high nasal whine into something a little more entertaining at the very least.

But since we don’t advocate such misdeeds around here – after all, music by itself should be enough of an intoxicant to render any artificial means of achieving that state largely superfluous – this record faces an uphill battle of trying to win us over as long as we all remain dead sober.


The Evening Breeze Is Blowing
I’m sure the statute of limitations has long since passed on any wayward activity teenaged vocalist Carl Campbell might’ve been guilty of in the first days of 1950, but as we also know there’s no shortage of those still around who seek to vilify young black men for all sorts of transgressions, real or imagined, so we’ll refrain from implicating him in any misdemeanors by suggesting he was dispensing advice to listeners, or that he was referring to himself outside of the context of this (entirely fictional) tale.

That disclaimer aside though, you kinda hope he was on something here because Gettin’ High needs some sort of explanation that might make sense of what he’s offering us, something which on the surface seems to be rather straightforward before it gets lost in a haze of… well, let’s not go there just yet.

To start with there are a lot familiar tropes scattered throughout the song… he’s disillusioned over the recent breakup of a romance… his ex-girlfriend is headed out of town – on a train, which is the preferred means of women leaving men in mid-Century American song (maybe they got a group ticket rate)… and of course all of this leads to Campbell feeling very low down indeed.

He tells us – and by extension her – that he’s “sitting in his old rockin’ chair” wiling away the hours, feeling sorry for himself and wondering why he’s been dumped, although admitting that it was all his fault.

That’s the first problem. Well, first two problems, one being that if he’s so distraught over this and feels wronged by her decision he’s not doing much about it to rectify the situation. So much for instilling some much needed action in this tale.

The other problem of course is that we never do find out what this tiff was about. Granted he himself admits he doesn’t know either but he also wrote the song and so if anyone had the ability to fill in a few of the pertinent details it surely would be him. We’re not going to be using his admissions against him in court, but we do kinda like to have a little background in these cases to better sympathize with him if he’s deserving of any pity, or to take her side and be glad that he’s alone and miserable after what he put her through.

But maybe not wanting to implicate himself he leaves us hanging and feigns ignorance. We have no idea what her name even is, let alone how long they were together, if they were really serious or if it was a casual thing that just didn’t work out. By the sounds of it Campbell was treating it as if she were the love of his life, but then again he might’ve just had a few too many drinks of… ahh… cream soda and the effects have gone to his head.

Whatever the cause of his despondency, and whatever the reason for their breakup, he sounds terrible and by that I mean both his outlook and his voice, each of which seem to be on the verge of expiring at any minute.

My Heart Can’t Stand The Pain
Campbell’s first release in early autumn showed two distinct vocal textures, one of which was pretty good, the other of which was a detriment.

On the uptempo Ooh Wee Baby he (or someone impersonating him) had a deeper tone and more confident delivery that rode the rhythms laid down by the Freedom Records studio musicians soon to be dubbed The Hep-Cats.

But on the ballad Between Midnight And Dawn the nasal tone of Campbell became much more pronounced as he sang in a higher register and in the process came across as whining when he probably was hoping to sound soulful.

Here he’s got the same problem as his diaphragm and larynx both sit this one out and let his nasal passages take over his vocal projection resulting in a song where you’re not sure if he sounds so sad because of the story’s circumstances or because he’s noticing the band, the engineer and producer wincing in pain as he tries to sing this lament convincingly.

But even if he were to be singing in the dulcet tones of a Herb Lance he’d still have trouble making much sense out of Gettin’ High because there just aren’t enough building blocks here to make for a good record.

For starters the melody is barren and the tempo is ponderous virtually assuring that this isn’t going to stick in your head very long without something firmer to latch onto. Then there’s no real plot developments after he sets the very sparse scene for us to get a sense of the situation. He sits alone, apparently drowning his sorrows in something from his parents liquor cabinet, and expecting sympathy… from the girl and from us.

But without any twists to the story and with no clever lines to pique our interest we’re left with a singular impression of both the character and the song itself, both of which are rather dismal.


You Know Right Where I’ll Be
The one saving grace you’re looking for throughout all this misery is the backing band, the finest self-contained unit we’ve seen so far in rock. But even with the potential they have for pulling this out of the doldrums, there’s only so much they can do when presented with a song that is constructed in a way to allow no respite from the downtrodden mood.

The piano that kicks it off is a nice enough sound, spinning a lazy melodic bed before it fades into the background, content to add a few transition patterns every so often.

The primary accompaniment to Campbell’s vocals therefore falls to the guitar, none other than Goree Carter, the best on that instrument there is, but while what he plays is pretty stellar there’s little room for any flamboyant embellishment.

In spite of this he does all he can with the limited framework he has at his disposal, lots of fleeting grace notes that are fragile as snowflakes on glass when the sun comes out, before finally getting a chance to stretch his legs during the instrumental break.

Now it needs to be said that any excuse to listen to Goree Carter play guitar makes hearing the rest of the record worthwhile, but the role he’s being cast in here means he’s forced to let his guitar suggest a mood rather than declare it demonstratively, adding enough shadings to Gettin’ High to make it more palatable but unable to reshape it entirely.

The horns rather surprisingly sit the song out and their presence is definitely missed, as at the very least they could’ve added some moaning accompaniment to take some of the burden off Campbell so we aren’t worried that he’s going to drink himself to death or overdose on some drug that they don’t sell over the counter at the local pharmacy.

Credit the producer for keeping the mood as bleak as possible to suit the rather limited perspective, but when that’s also what’s holding this back from being something we’d want to revisit it’s hard to commend them too much for it.

You Know That I’m To Blame
Naturally a record company that’s less than a year old is probably not going to have the means for attracting a horde of impressive new talent and so it’s hardly surprising they’re going to have their share of non-starters on their release rolls for awhile.

As run-of-the-mill singers go Carl Campbell isn’t completely without merit and being just 16 it’s doubtful that he’s a finished product.

That being said however, with far better options on Freedom Records’ roster popping up as of late, and being cognizant of the impatient nature of the record industry as a whole, there’s no assurance that Campbell will be given time to refine his technique, shore up his deficiencies and figure out an approach which plays to his strengths rather highlights his weaknesses as Gettin’ High does.

Maybe he understood this all along and that could be the reason he’s looking to alleviate the pressure via some herb and a bottle of cheap booze.


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