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KING 4302; JUNE, 1949

 
 

 

The confounding questions we always seem to face when dealing with Earl Bostic continue.

No artist in rock’s first decade matched talent with exasperation quite like the mercurial Earl Bostic. Perhaps the most supremely gifted saxophonist in rock at the time, he was never content to stick with rock exclusively. His extensive jazz background needed to be stoked to keep him viable in that market as well, so there was always a split personality when it came to his output.

But Bostic didn’t stop merely with those two dominant genres and leave it at that. As befitting a man who made a living on stages of all sizes and in every type venue imaginable, he also cut plenty of bland pop tracks along the way that were perfectly suited for – and popular in – the kind of places where music, no matter how well played, served simply as background noise for the nose-in-the-air elites sipping martinis as they gossiped about which of their society friends latest stock deals were threatening to send them to the underclass.

All of these avenues, as disparate as the styles themselves were, not to mention how different the audiences were for such endeavors, were tackled with somewhat similar consistency over the years. No matter what form he succeeded with most recently he was just as apt to head off in another direction the next time out. Whichever he felt the most affinity for personally we’ll likely never know.
 

 
So it’s with a mixture of intense curiosity to see what he pulled out of his vast bag of tricks, and a lingering sense of trepidation that we cue up each side Earl Bostic comes out with, always holding our breath until we know for certain that the music contained within is even intended for our rock-bred ears.

On Earl’s Blues we can breathe a sigh of relief as it unquestionably is placed squarely in the rock column, giving us a chance for once to stop expounding at length on the mystifying avenues he often explores which invariably lead to various levels of frustration depending on just how far down those side roads he takes us, leaving us to focus more on the contents of the record than his mindset when making it.

But then again it wouldn’t be an Earl Bostic record if there wasn’t some unexpected detour in even the most straightforward of rock releases and this time it comes in a rather shocking manner as the most talented sax blower on the scene suddenly puts down his horn and opens his mouth and starts to sing.

SING?!?!

Yup, sing.

 

 

Change Your Ways
Before you get any wild ideas that this was yet another recklessly indulgent move that was being carried out by Bostic in an effort to test his new company’s faith in him, done more as a lark or a cruel hoax designed to enrage King Records owner, the irascible Syd Nathan who could hurl a profanity laced outburst at the Easter Bunny for delivering an uneven number of eggs, the fact is Bostic handles the singing just fine.

His voice is a strong tenor, not much range but not much is needed either, at least on this. Though the pace is frantic he thankfully doesn’t outrace the band, nor wind up out of breath as many less experienced singers might be prone to do. On the whole he conveys the right amount of excitement and yet still manages to stay in control of his vocals and remains in tune throughout.

So chalk it up as a fairly successful entry into the ranks of rock ‘n’ roll singing. Nothing to go wild over perhaps, but nothing to toss aside either, throwing up your hands that he’s done it to you again and sent you into a tizzy over his bewildering choices. As novice vocalists go, this is more than alright.

But of course his ability to handle such a job is only part of the equation that goes into making a solid record. An important part for sure, but far from the deciding factor when it comes to determining the value of Earl’s Blues.

For now we have another consideration to take into account that Bostic normally doesn’t deal with, namely the lyrics. Certainly there have been many a good sounding record over the last few years done in by subpar lyrics and since this is not an area that Earl Bostic has experience in you worry that he’s going to slip up here and never recover, so we’ll start there – the song as written on paper – and work our way out.
 

Go Your Merry Way
Smartly Bostic is working from a very well-worn template. The rapid fire vocals are spouting lines that could conceivably be taken from any number of generic songs where the lyrics in even the best of them are merely placeholders for the excitement found in the delivery – both vocally and instrumentally.

For starters there’s the fact that while this is called Earl’s Blues there’s absolutely nothing blue about it. Though Bostic is reprimanding the girl he’s engaged to, telling her she needs to shape up her behavior (and possibly her shape itself!) in order to make it to the altar, he’s really just ranting about whatever insecurities he has himself and so if you want to play psychiatrist it probably has less to do with her actions than his own.

But that said the lines do come off well, providing just enough surface detail to get an idea of the nature of their relationship. You can easily envision her as a hot girl who was an enthusiastic patron to his shows, someone who caught his eye from the bandstand, and as surely happened then just as much as it does now he probably sent some flunky out to issue a backstage invite which may or may not have resulted in her dress being crumpled on the floor with a few stains that couldn’t be explained to the dry cleaner as coming from sharing an ice cream sundae after a quiet stroll through the park.

The two of them carry on their trysts until she insists that she’s not a floozy and if he expects to continue seeing her he’ll have to show he’s serious about her. A reasonable request for sure, whether that involves just formal dates consisting of nice dinners, taking her to some shows and no expectations that carnal activities will ensue each and every time they get together, or something a little more substantive.

Apparently he felt this girl, or at least something this girl had in abundance that he wanted access to, was worth such a commitment and so he buys her a ring. But now, satisfied with her catch of the big name musician the girl starts to let herself go a little, helping herself to seconds at the buffet table, probably not cleaning up after herself or becoming rather lax on doing the laundry. To top it off she starts to flaunt her desirability when they head out on the town, knowing that other guys she passes are impressed by who she’s with and so… well, why not encourage their interest by flirting and in the process show Earl that he’s damn lucky to have her?

Yeah, it’s safe to say this is one relationship where the honeymoon resort better have taken an ample and non-refundable down payment on their reservation or they’ll have an empty villa and no recourse for getting any restitution from the soon to be split partners.

So that’s the run-down of the story, but of course even with the addition of a plotline we know full well that’s STILL not the main show here, not when Bostic has got his saxophone in hand and is ready, willing and able to blow like mad.
 

 

I’m Through Talkin’
While he’s singing of course he can’t also be playing and so the piano handles the rapid-fire musical accompaniment as well as can be expected before his hands begin to cramp. Bostic however has no such problems because as he’s shown plenty of times in the past no pace is too frantic for him, no amount of lung power is too much for him to display, no arrangement that switches off between many distinct melodic characteristics is too difficult for him to handle and his work on Earl’s Blues is no exception.

The first of two solos he offers is comparatively tame, though for many horn players tame would be the last word they’d associate with it. Yet it’s a manageable passage at least, something the better sax honkers would be able to do without too much strain, though even here Bostic shows off his dynamic range by wielding his alto like it’s a baritone at first before letting it soar higher into the range normally utilized by the tenor.

Following his kiss-off to his soon-to-be-ex girlfriend he announces he’s “through talking, there ain’t nothing else to say” and then he proves it by forsaking his unexpected singing career and instead starts blowing up a storm, taking out all of his frustrations about this rocky relationship on the instrument itself which responds as if it’s being alternately kicked and strangled before getting dumped in the alley, leaving Earl’s Blues a battered and bruised carcass to be discovered by the street sweepers the next morning.

These are the kind of wild acrobatics Bostic specializes in. The other horns are playing their supporting riff as fast as they can and even then you sense he’d take the whip to them in an effort to get them moving even faster if he had one hand free with which to do so. Since he doesn’t he’ll simply have to drag them along behind him as he starts off with his horn in the tenor lane again before taking it into the stratosphere that was the alto’s specialized realm.

He plays with such speed and dexterity that when he slows just a bit to suggest a brief snake-charmer dance routine it gives you the chance to get your bearings and catch your breath. When Bostic himself might’ve had that chance to gulp another lungful of air can only be speculated, but in another life he should’ve become a deep sea diver because it’d doubtful he’d have ever needed an oxygen tank.
 

Watch Out, Baby
By this point it’s sheer pandemonium. You lose your sense of direction, your sense of balance and for all I know your sense of smell, taste and touch if you’re listening to this being played too loud in a darkened room.

It’s not exactly a record for the faint of heart or those battling high blood pressure, but then again – as if often the case with Bostic – it’s also not a great record as much as it is an impressive performance.

For starters there’s the generic quality of the lyrics to contend with, as suitable as they are they don’t elevate this at all but merely carry it along to each successive instrumental showcase. Those are of course the best moments, the reason you’re buying Earl Bostic’s records to begin with after all, but even so there’s a sense when he finally unleashes the horn that Bostic was going all out just to show that he could.

Even so you LIKE it enough, and certainly in the right situation you might actually love it provided you retain consciousness enough to remember it afterwards, but one of its tricks is that it’s played so fast in such an exhibitionist manner that it distracts you from the fact there’s not much substance to it underneath the gaudy exterior.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a helluva lot of fun to hear and is a welcome reaffirmation that he was going to continue to deal out generous supplies of rock ‘n’ roll along the way in a life full of meandering stylistic voyages.

In the end though while it’s good to have him back in the fold, Earl’s Blues is as much about impressing his fellow horn players and throwing down the gauntlet as it is about attracting a faithful audience who are attuned to the types of horn workouts that rock has made it’s name on.

Take a deep breath, Earl and let us do the same. When our heads stop spinning we’ll be happy to tell you that for something that might be the most calculating thing you’ve released in rock to date it manages to do the job just fine. But – and remember there’s always a “but” when it comes to Earl Bostic – we all know you can still do even better if you set your mind to it.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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