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APOLLO 417; JANUARY, 1950

 
 

 

The word “cool” has a few different connotations. The original definition referred to temperature, poised somewhere between hot and cold but leaning towards the latter, just as “warm” would inch towards the former.

Neither warm nor cool was too disagreeable – the real life equivilent of taking off a light jacket in early spring if the temperature crept up to the warm territory by midday or putting that jacket on again when the sun started going down in late afternoon.

But then there’s the term that stemmed from music, jazz originally, though rock picked up on it quickly too, wherein “cool” denotes a person’s image where it was a compliment referring to their laid-back attitude and awareness of everything considered hip in that insular world.

Then there’s one final definition that fits this record, that of a lukewarm or tepid response to something that does just enough to pass muster in terms of credibility, but tries for little beyond that.

In case you were wondering that last one is not a compliment.
 

 

Won’t You Take My Phone Number?
As we’ve said in each of the three Eddie Mack reviews we’ve written, he was a slightly uncertain fit in rock ‘n’ roll to begin with owing to his experience in the pre-rock black music market that was busy shedding its past allegiances but left some artists still not certain of their future residency.

As a result he had attributes which could fit in one or the other but not quite both, at least comfortably. The more he accentuated the rock-attributes, such as on the excellent top-side of this release, Hoot And Holler Saturday Night, the better the results were and the better the reception was for his efforts.

Yet if he, or in that case the band behind him, recalled some earlier discarded mindset then he risked giving back those gains in the blink of an eye, making his position in rock’s hierarchy somewhat tenuous.

It’s pretty safe to say that his position won’t get on firmer footing with Cool Mama, a throwback sound from all involved, singer and band alike, that might’ve been more warmly received had the rest of rock not moved forward at so fast a pace over the past two years.
 


 

When We Get Together Everything Will Be Alright
Once again it needs to be pointed out that the studio band backing him, alto sax player Bobby Smith and other refugees from Erskine Hawkins’ well-respected jazz band, were themselves just trying to get their footing in rock and had their ups and downs in making that transition.

Smith had put out a halfway decent attempt at it under his own name on Bess’s Boogie earlier in the month, which at its best highlighted the saxophone and guitar in ways that would make any rock act proud, but when it came to the other instruments at times it suffered from conflicting mindsets. This is hardly surprising, nor is it quite their fault, after all it’s hard to make a career move in your mid-40’s as Smith was doing even if technically this new venture was still in the music field. But as anyone who’s listened to rock and jazz side by side knows, the two styles have differing opinions as to what qualifies as “music” sometimes.

That’s the case on Cool Mama as well, a song that showcases their outdated mindset in the massed horn intro, the higher pitched droning behind Mack’s vocals in the initial verses and the busy, but ineffectual piano riding alongside them for much of it.

Better though is the work of Smith, his alto taking on the deeper shadings of the tenor at times, delivering a solid solo which is drenched in echo for a captivating moment that is far too brief. Guitarist Leroy Kirkland chips in with his typically stellar work on the strings, not only adding interesting licks behind Mack but taking his own quick solo in which the tone makes it sound like the wind whipping across a thin metal wire in a storm.

Maybe if the band had been forced to carry more of the responsibility here they’d have added other noteworthy textures to what they’re laying down, or at least have let the solos go on longer to give themselves more of a presence, but because they’re merely providing support for a singer from whom the label had high hopes, Smith and company dutifully take a back seat and let Eddie Mack have the spotlight to himself for the majority of the song, much to its detriment.
 


 
 

How Can A Man Like Me Go Wrong?
This is something of a reversal of our opinion from the top side where Mack was the one who stood out for his forward thinking and the band, at times anyway, were what threatened to hold him back.

On Cool Mama however, though the band is hardly at any risk of being called cutting edge with their playing, at least they’re holding their own to a degree. The same can’t be said for Mack this time around as he reverts back to a poorly chosen declaratory style of singing he learned from pre-rock vocal star of some renown Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson which eschews melody for a halting rhythm, building each stanza up as if to spring a major revelation in the concluding line only to find he has nothing much to say, thereby letting the air out of the balloon without a sufficient BANG!

This method of singing has been a fairly common sight in rock over its first two and a half years as you’d expect – after all, styles don’t always emerge fully formed of course and so they need to draw their inspiration from somewhere – but as rock progressed and took on more of its own distinctive characteristics this style was one of the first to be jettisoned, and those who continued using it suddenly seemed out of step with the rest of the rock world.

The reason why this wasn’t as effective is because it was so limiting by nature. The vocalist was forced to bellow more than sing, using volume alone to convey the intricacies of the story, something far better achieved with measured nuance if the message has any depth.

It’s a one note performance by intent and so while Mack certainly has the larynx to pull it off, possessing a somewhat reedy sounding but sturdy tone, he’s left with nothing more to do than rise and fall with an unimaginative predictability which quickly becomes repetitive causing you to lose interest in what he’s actually singing.

That might not be a bad thing however because the other area this falls short is in its rather crudely simplistic lyrics by the usually stellar songwriter Rudolph Toombs, who here gives us only a sketch outline of Mack’s all-consuming interest in an unnamed woman who may or may not even realize he exists. In spite of this Mack’s not lacking for confidence, although that might just be due to the noise he’s making in stating his case for her companionship.

But all his effort amounts to is just a roll call of how fine she is, how much he wants her and how little she has to do to win his devotion, telling her she could take his money (and apparently go out and have a good time without him) as long as she staggered home to see him after she was done fornicating with other men.

I dunno, it hardly seems like an equitable trade but who are we to judge his low self-esteem and his comfort with being used like a human ashtray?

We ARE free however to judge him as an artist and there’s nothing being shown here to reinforce the positive view we had of him on the other side of this one, leaving him once more to scour the streets in search of less discerning music fans willing to take him home and give him another chance.
 

I Could Change My Way Of Living
As we said even when praising his better attempts, Eddie Mack was hardly a candidate for sustained stardom in rock and so it’s to be expected that his output would run hot and cold… or “warm” and “cool” if you want to stick with the theme of this record to the very end.

A subpar record, particularly on the B-side of one that is comfortably above average is hardly the end of the world for someone like Mack, who only needs to convince skeptical audiences that they can get something of value from him enough to allay their fears that he’s ill-suited for their needs.

He does that with this release, at least with the A-side, and so his position as a whole – if anything – probably goes up a notch based on that surprisingly good effort. But while it may get him a more receptive welcome the next time he releases a record, the more astute rock fan having heard him fall short of fully grasping the requirements of this music on Cool Mama will remain unconvinced of his transformation without further evidence in his favor.

If anything this might even make their willingness to go into his future output with an open mind even less likely. Based on the shortcomings here and taking into account his history it wouldn’t be at all unfair to suggest that Hoot And Holler Saturday Night would wind up being his personal high point as an artist, a once-in-lifetime moment when everything came together for him before he reverted back to the mean.

He could still surprise us down the road and obviously we hope he’ll be able to, but if you were using his full body of work to date as a weather forecast for the rest of his career I probably shouldn’t have to tell you to bring a coat along, for as this one shows the temperature is sure to cool off from the Indian summer he enjoyed yesterday.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Eddie Mack for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)