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As spring turns to summer and the days get longer, the weather gets warmer and people start heading back outside it’s amazing who you’ll run into that you hadn’t expected to see.

Though neither of the artists featured on this record would make much of an impact on the course of rock ‘n’ roll history, both were something of a steady presence on this record label, one that had its fair share of interesting records but a scarcity of really great ones.

This is yet another which fits that description… good enough to appreciate but not quite good enough to change any of their prospects going forward.


My Love Is Achin’
Like so many smaller independent record labels counting heavily on rock ‘n’ roll to carve out their niche in the marketplace, Sittin’ In With Records were banking on a skilled set of musicians to serve as their studio band to ensure smooth, professional sessions wherein they could get the requisite songs in the can with a minimal amount of fuss and also who provided them with the opportunity to expand their output by letting those musicians get lead artist credit from time to time.

Ed Wiley technically wasn’t the leader of the studio group, at least if the recent Goree Carter sides are to be trusted as the definitive point of reference, but while Henry Hayes may have gotten credit on Let’s Rock, it was fellow saxophonist Wiley who had the releases under his own name in his résumé for the company starting last winter with Cry, Cry Baby, one of the actual hits the label had released.

It was also his tenor, more than Hayes’ alto, which was more suited to the rough and tumble style rock was known for… except here on My Heart Is Going Down Slow he’s playing in a manner more befitting a tamer horn and is all the better for it.

This is such a simple… almost simplistic… track that it’s disarming to hear. In fact it’s not a saxophone that takes the lead on it at all, but rather the piano which is played with a choppy off-beat rhythm by Willie Johnson that is far more infectious than something this quirky has a right to be.

The stuttering melody keeps you off balance and therefore hanging on the rest of the song to make sure you don’t lose your step. Wiley’s languid saxophone answers in a consistently understated way, adding ambiance more than melodic support, save for a few winding passages here and there.

The two instruments mesh well together though despite their differing approaches because each is respectful of the other’s space within the arrangement. It’s as if they’re running on parallel tracks and as long as they don’t cross one another they can continue on without interference. They’re using the same tempo if not the same musical language and by deftly handing off to one another as they go you never get tired of either one, no matter how stark either one would be if left entirely on their own.

The result is a tranquil, almost lullaby-esque backing track, one that seems almost like a demo at times but is full enough to support the vocal… a vocal carried out by a another steady, if minor, figure associated with the label who may wear the title of royalty but in truth was little more than a very young aspiring journeyman singer who turns in his best performance to date.

I Wonder Where Did She Go
When we were introduced to Carl Campbell, a 16 year old with a nasal voice and placid vocal delivery, back in the fall of 1949 on his debut for Freedom Records he didn’t seem to be someone who’d necessarily be around a long time. He received his standard issue two releases on that label who decided not to ink him to a longer deal, maybe thinking he needed more experience to hone his craft and be something more than a second rate Amos Milburn or Little Willie Littlefield clone.

But he quickly landed at Sittin’ In With, the New York based label that actually spent most of its time scouring the Gulf Coast for any available acts not signed to one of the local imprints, and they renamed him King Tut – why, nobody knows – and he got a release under his own name – You’ve Been Fiddlin’ Around – a few months back that showed he hadn’t shored up his weaknesses just by switching hosts.

So since this was almost certainly cut at the same time, or immediately after, why is it that My Heart Is Going Down Slow finds him using the same basic techniques, yet connecting so much more precisely with them?

The answer isn’t found in his voice which seems to channel Littlefield so directly on this that you wouldn’t be shocked to find him wearing Willie’s shoes and boxer shorts, but rather it’s his self-effacing delivery that wins you over. Using a variety of techniques that suit his limited technical abilities, from holding notes when they’re least expected to frequent use of hesitation moves to create suspense and anticipation, the vocal matches the backing track perfectly in finding a relaxed mood that remains just a step or two away from sleepy.

That doesn’t sound like the description of a compelling record – something that has you catching yourself as you start to nod off – but there’s a warm comforting vibe to it, a tranquility that is far more inviting than off-putting.

The story he’s singing covers a fairly common theme – another guy sad about his girlfriend leaving him – but there’s a sincerity to the way he slowly unveils the plot and it’s got some lines in it that add a few smirks if you’re aware of the biographical details surrounding the spurned boy king, such as him saying his hair will turn grey over this predicament which is obviously funny because he’s barely old enough to shave. It’s going for pathos more than humor yet it’s not trying to manipulate you for shallow sympathy in the process, instead it does a good job at merely presenting the situation and letting you take from it only what you want.

None of this beaks any new ground naturally, but it makes for a surprisingly efficient recap of this type of song which has been at the forefront of rock balladry almost from the very start.

Come Back Some Day
Because neither Wiley nor Campbell would go on to any greater heights in rock ‘n’ roll the most notable thing about this record might be something otherwise irrelevant, but eye-catching all the same.

Sittin’ In With had used red labels with silver script up to and including this release, but they made a change to the more historically familiar yellow and black just about the time this came out.

My Heart Is Going Down Slow, despite the fact it wasn’t a big seller for them, got issued with both labels, pinpointing just when this change took place.

Of course the fact we mention something so irrelevant to the contents of said record is not what the participants would care to have us focus on, especially since they all slightly surpass our expectations this time out, but sometimes with so many solid but basically interchangeable offerings coming out at any given time, you might want to be singled out for something else just to keep it from fading into oblivion.

This single – and artist – might not have staved off that eventuality altogether just because of that bit of collector’s trivia, but if it allows even one more person to discover the small pleasures found within, then why complain about how they came to it?

After all even kings sometimes need to find a way to remain in the news.


(Visit the Artist page of Ed Wiley Jr. as well as King Tut for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)