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COLUMBIA 39272; MARCH 1951

 
 

 

After two full years of releases we’re not really sure just who Chris Powell really was as an artist.

Was he merely a major label’s patsy… a moderately talented but unambitious club act who was convinced to try playing rock ‘n’ roll in exchange for a recording contract he had little chance of getting on his own?

Or was he a genuine rock enthusiast who was mostly being kept under wraps by a company that had no real love for the form and had only wanted to shallowly capitalize on it with mostly watered down renditions?

In truth either of those descriptions might be accurate and unfortunately this release brings us no closer to getting a definitive answer.
 

 

From Here To Timbuktu
To give him his due, at his best the records Chris Powell and The Five Blue Flames released were legitimate rockers – and legitimately good, actually legitimately great at what they aimed to do.

But at their worst they were anemic psuedo-rock sung and played with little conviction… or else they were pop drivel or stupid novelties that companies such as Columbia specialized in at the time.

The Man With The Horn is one of those dreadful pop confections, designed to be classy and elegant but which comes across as bland and artificial and which suggests that if it was Powell’s doing that he was grateful for a chance to ease back on the histrionics and present something that would surely be more suited for the kind of classier nightclubs that someone like him had been aspiring to play a year or two earlier.

If that was indeed the case then now, with his best rock attempts behind him, he could take advantage of Columbia’s prestige and get the opportunity to see those dreams come to fruition.

But do we think that only because it makes for the easiest narrative based on his doughy appearance, his backstory and from cherry picking his weakest sides to create that impression? We have no proof that Powell had been shoved into the role of a rocker, for all we know he might’ve been the one pushing to head in that direction from the start.

Though he won’t approach the heights of his work from the fall of 1949 again, with Country Girl Blues at least Powell shows us that he wasn’t giving up on rock ‘n’ roll entirely, even if at the same time the song had a strong undercurrent of stupid novelty to it that leaves questions regarding his true intentions unanswered yet again.
 

Where Everything Is Grand
We’ll try and give him the benefit of the doubt and say that this is a sincere attempt to stay relevant as a rock act. But if so it’s also a flawed attempt because Chris Powell was not quite up to crafting an original song that delivered all of the requisite components in this genre on his own and fell back on stereotypes, both musical and lyrical.

Country Girl Blues finds him reunited with saxophonist Danny Turner who was one of the keys to making his best records come to life but if this is his attempt to conjure up some of that magic his misfortune is he’s got a song that has absolutely no chance of being transcendent. Still, they at least manage to deliver a fairly adequate no frills rocker that shows the band might just be able to keep him in our good graces even if at the same time the poor choice of material can’t help but reveal his limitations.

Musically speaking the record has the right idea from the start with its horns, piano and drums cascading out of the speakers in quick dramatic bursts before easing back to allow Powell to set up the story which is where it starts to step wrong.

Well, maybe not wrong for the era or the fragile mental state of men who realize they’re not destined to remain the stronger sex once women are allowed to compete with them on relatively equal terms, but rather wrong because in order to truly appreciate the humor they’re attempting to use you’d have to actually agree with them that the most desirable women are subservient eye-candy with no ambitions of their own.
 

They Can Do Anything You Can
Let’s start by saying that Powell embodies this character well. He genuinely sounds perplexed by the changing role of women in post-war society, is clearly intimidated by it, yet unable to process these feelings and admit that his own inadequacies have left him worried that he has nothing of value to offer a woman if she can get what she wants without his help.

His spoken interlude works nicely to cram a lot of the examples into the song in ways that sung vocals could never manage quite as neatly, one of the rare times we’ve encountered when that device is a positive rather than sounding contrived.

But of course it still hinges on the fact that he’s making fun of the thing he can’t control which is insecurity personified. If we’re supposed to find what he’s complaining about funny then it paints us – the males in the listening audience – as equally shallow and insecure.

That’s undoubtedly the expectation of Powell and company going into Country Girl Blues, because of course this was made in 1951 when such advances in the concept of equality were beginning to take hold. That left guys who were used to being considered indispensable fearful because they’d previously been the only ones allowed to bring home the bacon, wear the pants in the family and other anachronistic homilies of the era that they’d come to rely on as being their god-given right.

The jokes therefore are all tired variations on this theme. In fact him bemoaning that women are wearing pants these days actually is one of them!

His other complaints range from such indignities as seeing women playing poker and flying airplanes to the fact they’re earning more money than men and using that dough to drive around in big cars… why some of them even “stand up at the bars just the same as you”.

The NERVE of them!

His solution was to head to the country – because of course that plays to another stereotype about less refined cultures – and get himself a girl who actually wears dresses and is happy just to stay at home to presumably carry out the domestic chores he’s incapable of doing himself.

But as distasteful as this all would be if you took him seriously, there’s a few signs that he’s acting as the butt of his own joke. Whether that was intentional or not though is hard to discern as it plays out.

At times he borders on buffoonery, the exasperated character whose overreactions to situations provide the laughs, but the critiques he offers never go challenged at any point in the lyrics leaving us with little choice but to take him seriously, especially when he concludes matters by announcing his satisfaction with a girl who won’t overturn the societal pecking order he’s used to.

As a result the message of the song is that through his diligence the status quo has been maintained… hoorah!
 


 

Act Like A Natural Man
In spite of the indefensible viewpoint expressed here Powell somehow comes off alright. He’s never acting loathsome in his misogyny and one listen to him tells us that he’s probably not going to have the upper hand with his newfound love from the country either.

She might not wind up running a company and beating him rolling craps as he fears, but if there’s any justice he’ll be the one doing the laundry and cleaning the pots and pans after cooking her dinner.

It’s hard to really praise a record like Country Girl Blues though because it was presented as if this were a legitimate gripe that had some merit. There’s not enough of a self-knowing wink to alleviate the implications of what he’s saying. Had he added just one line at the end where he receives some ironic comeuppance for his Neanderthal views it would’ve been much funnier and allowed us to almost pity poor Chris rather than roll our eyes at him.

But even if it can’t be strongly recommended, women in the audience can get the last laugh by taking solace in the inescapable fact that he’s just another one of the many dolts in the world who think that Y chromosome was a societal benefit that was handed out on pure merit, not the random fluke that it actually is.

The truth is those successful “city” women, the pretty ones who dress in the latest styles that he’s targeting by name, will never give a guy like Chris Powell the time of day and they know – just as we do – that’s what he’s really piqued about.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Chris Powell & The Five Blue Flames for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)