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One of the benefits to having a lasting hit in a still relatively condensed market in the singles era with so many independent companies seeking to make inroads is that you’ll always have someone who wants to record you.

One of the detriments to that fact is that you’ll record anything for anyone for a couple of nights drinking money.

As a result the catalog of Cecil Gant is spread over countless labels wherein he cut countless songs that had virtually no thought put into them, relying only on his skills on the keyboard and his improvised lyrics as the tapes rolled.

All of them were passable recordings, nothing downright embarrassing about them, but few of them were worth the 79 cents per copy being charged for them.

Here he gives the label he spent the most time with a song that has just a little more planning involved and while it may not be a great record, the difference between it and his usual fare is still pretty striking.


We Can’t Get Along
Having covered Cecil Gant’s usual method for pulling a song from his subconscious was to uncork a bottle, sit at the piano and noodle until something came to him, leading to songs with very limited lyrics and sometimes only a vague premise with which to hang it on.

In essence a lot of those records were instrumentals disguised as vocal records since piano instrumentals have limited commercial appeal compared to songs that offer another element to them.

So What’s The Matter is significant in that there’s actually a song IN the song complete with a story (well, a story premise anyway), a framework and more substantial arrangement.

But those are things we usually take for granted when a record is being produced, they aren’t things we should be celebrating for merely being included. It’d be like praising a restaurant that put napkins and silverware on your table without charging extra for it.

Then again, when you’ve been forced to eat with your hands and wipe your mouth on your sleeve so many times when dining out at Cecil’s, then I guess it’s natural to point out the welcome change.


Find Yourself Somebody And I’ll Find Somebody Too
One reason why this record stands out among Gant’s recent efforts is the presence of a fuller band behind him, or at least a band given more role in putting the record over.

As usual Gant’s own piano is at the forefront and he’s always been a good at a variety of approaches, though rarely has he been asked to do anything complex. Yet fulfilling the basic needs of rhythm and melody is still necessary and he’s done that… granted sometimes that’s all he’s done, but it’s appreciated.

On What’s The Matter his piano starts the song off on fairly solid ground. The intro itself is a little off-kilter but he settles into a nice groove with a heavy left hand when the vocals start which along with a steady drummer gives this a strong bottom.

But the piano is only part of the instrumental mix and the sax which gets featured next provides some notable high points and some unfortunate lows, often within the same line.

At one point it starts playing OVER Gant’s vocals, which is annoying even though what it’s playing is good, but it’s also horribly atonal at other times and seems to be wandering around blindly, unsure of not just what to play, but when to play. Yet when it hits on a good riff it largely makes up for it.

The third instrumental showcase is for the guitar which delivers the most succinct and efficient break, a well-paced single string solo that draws out the tension by holding back on the amount of notes delivered, all of it under control and with a clear vision in mind from the start.

Finally we get – of all things – a bass solo, which is hardly something you’d expect even years down the road when the electric bass replaced the more cumbersome stand-up bass which often has trouble making each note clear due to the limitations of mic’ing the instrument. Yet here, in conjunction with Gant’s piano which adds accent notes to keep it on track, you get a pretty good sense of what it might sound like on stage where he’d get a chance to stretch out a little more. Hardly dynamic stuff, but interesting to hear at any rate.

What stands out about it all however is the sheer fact it was designed this way before they began recording. Again, that’s hardly worth mentioning for most artists, but for Gant it was a revelatory concept and the fact he stuck with it to the end is almost remarkable considering how much it deviated from his usual ad-libbed approach.

Yet don’t think for a second that Gant was going not at least flirt with ad-libbing something here, which is where the lyrics come into play.

I’ll Tell You Now, Baby, What We’re Going To Do
As hard as it may be to believe it’s obvious that Cecil Gant had to have gone into this session with this song sketched out ahead of time, not just the instrumental trade-offs, but the lyrical structure it all fits into.

That doesn’t mean that What’s The Matter has a very deep plot, three-dimensional characters and ample motivation for their actions, but it at least gives us something that qualifies in all three areas which is more than we expected going into this.

The song takes place in the immediate aftermath of his girlfriend breaking up with him and he simply wants to know why because from his perspective everything was peaches and cream between them.

It never gets into details and for the first half you think like most of his songs the lyrics are just to give it an easy identity by sticking the title in to make it easy to pick out on a jukebox, but as it goes on he at least fills in some of the blanks by telling us of his efforts to make her happy apparently wasn’t enough to satisfy her and yet he thinks her excuse that she likes someone else is simply to get out of their relationship without a confrontation.

In other words it’s stubborn petulance and pride that’s the driving force behind the song, which may not be much but it’s more than we usually get and thus asking for more – a reasonable request in most cases – seems almost excessive.

Yup, lowering our expectations may in fact have its advantages.

That Was A Lie
Though this stands as one of Gant’s… let’s say… “more appropriate” efforts for our needs, that hardly means it’s really worth seeking out.

The best aspect of it is the idea behind the arrangement itself, the spotlighting of four different instruments for stand-alone spots and how the vocals are used to frame them and give What’s The Matter a little more coherence than it’d otherwise have.

But while we commend him for the modest effort and can find some nice things to say about the playing at various stages, it’s far too inconsistent in that regard to do more than simply tread water.

If you’re at all surprised by this, then you just don’t know Cecil Gant, someone for whom playing music never seemed like a chore for him to do, but also someone who never felt it was a privilage to have the opportunity to do it for a living.


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