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JUBILEE 5087; JUNE 1952



The biggest insight we can get into a record label’s mindset is always what they do to follow-up an unexpected early hit from an artist.

Few record companies see music the way listeners do… to them it’s not artistic expression, it’s commercial opportunity.

While they’ll be somewhat open to an artist’s musical ideas at first, if they happen to achieve success the label will begin to intervene in an attempt to replicate the success by either imitating the hit as closely as possible, or by seizing on broader appeal by leaving behind their core fan base in a desperate and futile attempt to attract the wandering eye of the larger pop audience who truthfully were never going to care about its follow-ups no matter how much you pandered to them.

One thing’s certain though, no matter how many times this approach fails the record labels won’t think twice about sinking the artist’s career in their quest for the crossover fantasy.


To Wash The Blues Away
For all intent and purposes sixteen year old Edna McGriff is over the hill as an artist already through no fault of her own.

When she signed with Jubilee Records and delivered a beautiful original composition called Heavenly Father which seamlessly pulled together themes of young love, the current war in Korea and yearning hope that hinted as gospel without giving itself over to it musically, the result was a big hit that drew pop interest, both in sales for the original as well as cover versions by legitimate pop acts.

But that’s where it should’ve ended. The record wasn’t a fluke but the wide scope of the response was and a company needs to understand that and not let its eyes get too big for a perceived prize they can’t possibly grab and one, even if they could, should not really aspire to if integrity matters to them.

The reason Jubilee succeeded in the first place was due to an audience they were all too willing to toss aside and that kind of cavalier attitude can – and should – come back to bite them in the ass if there’s any justice in the world.

Luckily Edna McGriff was still writing her own material and so It’s Raining doesn’t try and re-enact the same plot of her earlier hit (though rest assured, that would come in due time), but musically speaking this tries to reassure the mildly curious pop market that McGriff shared their sensibilities and could be relied on in the future to cater to their every whim.

Since it’s doubtful she had anything to do with conceiving the arrangement, hiring the musicians or approving the production we can safely place the blame where it belongs… on Jerry Blaine, the owner of the label and one of our favorite targets to skewer thanks to decisions like these.

The One I Love Has Gone Away
We’re not so naïve as to not expect Jerry Blaine to seek out pop acceptance. After all, he’s the guy who continually pushed The Orioles in that direction for much the same reason after an early crossover hit. But it’s how blatantly they attempt to drag her closer to the white audience that rankles us starting with instrumentation that would never be found on a respectable black turntable thanks to the presence of the steel guitar.

Whether you take this as a way to suggest country music – perhaps to court cover versions in that field – or to add a Hawaiian motif, it’s equally ill-advised. There’s nothing about the song’s content or McGriff’s vocal delivery which justifies either concept.

It’s too bad they had to saddle it with such a distraction because McGriff had a knack for crafting vivid material and her use of the weather here to reflect a broken heart is done in a way that avoids expectations. She’s not using the rain as a metaphor for her sadness but rather is speaking about it literally, as in she’s glad for the gloomy skies because it suits her outlook allowing her to go out in public and not have to put on a happy face as she might if it were a beautiful day.

Granted this is hardly ingenious, there’d be plenty of songs that would use the same basic theme, and the melody at times does veer a little too close to her breakthrough without being a slavish imitation of it, but her vocal choices elevates It’s Raining in ways where you’d like to see what she might’ve done with more sympathetic accompaniment.

Particularly impressive is how she builds tension by holding and stretching notes heading into the chorus which not only shows she has a good voice and a firm grasp of the technical side of singing but also reveals a natural instinct for conveying her emotions in subtle fashion which relies more on nuance than ardent expression.

Yet it becomes hard to focus on what she’s doing when you have that steel guitar sliding around her at every turn. If that’s not bad enough for you there’s always the equally suspect inclusion of the organ which is floating beneath that, further adding to the gimmicky “everything but the kitchen sink” feel of this.

That both of those instruments are tasked with playing showy fills only makes their awkward fit even more noticeable, so that when Lucas is trying to offer a more appropriate vibe with his sax, or if you turn your attention to the drummer (maybe the only one truly comprehending the style McGriff should be pursuing) you’re quickly snapped out of it because of the intrusiveness of the out of place instruments that dominate the record.

Maybe this song never had it in it to capture the lightning in a bottle magic of her last effort, but with a more suitable arrangement at least it wouldn’t risk being a blight on her résumé.


Left Me Lonely And Blue
We won’t go that far, Edna McGriff herself is too good for that ignominious fate, but this is the kind of institutional incompetence that drove artists and fans insane.

In any endeavor there’s a natural inclination to assume that those in positions of authority are qualified for their roles and will make the right decisions… or at least not do anything that is counterproductive to your ultimate goal.

But in music that instinct was an anomaly, as It’s Raining definitively proves. Jerry Blaine should’ve been locked in his room without supper for undercutting his own artist yet again.

The window for success in music is never open long and once you stick your head inside and feel the warmth of the room you better get the rest of your body indoors and out of the rain before that window crashes down again like a guillotine and decapitates your commercial chances.

Thanks to her record label poor Edna’s head wound up rolling across the floor after this stylistic debacle.


(Visit the Artist page of Edna McGriff for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)