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DELUXE 3303; MAY 1950



Although it should be fairly obvious for anyone who’s wasted their…. spent any time on this site that the primary purpose here is to analyze, explain and put into context the records and artists who went into building rock ‘n’ roll, the fact remains that the reviews all lead to a single number at the end to codify the 1,500 or so words that led up to that conclusion.

These scores, as I’m sure most people reading this well know, are essentially meaningless, certainly in a universal objective sense anyway.

Everybody who listens to music can, does and should make up their own mind as to a record’s worth and if you put any real value in someone else’s tastes and opinions, whether it’s being glad that I agreed with your own assessment or getting angry that I was diametrically opposed to your views, then you’re a fool.

But that said people’s well-thought out opinions ARE somewhat interesting, especially as they add up over time, if only to gauge how certain characteristics of these records are being received.

So with that as the disclaimer as to their inherent insignificance, it’s noteworthy – if only because it was completely unexpected even me for – to say that Erline Harris is the sole artist whose ever single side reviewed has scored in the vaunted green numbers.

Until now that is.

However today’s effort is no big drop off for the little acclaimed female belter, but rather in its own way a confirmation of just how good she really was as a vocalist, even when the song she’s given herself does her no favors.


So Much Love
Okay, so it’s not as if Erline Harris has got a satchel full of classic sides to her credit, she’s released just three singles to date and we didn’t review the B-side of her debut and the A-side of this release is a remake of her best song from last summer. So while we have given (7)’s, (8)’s or (9)’s to her four sides to date it’s just three songs all told and this one will break that run, so it’s not quite comparable to ending Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak after 56 games in 1941 or anything.

But then again it’s also a more impressive start to her recording career than anyone else we’ve encountered thus far which includes some pretty major artists. Even when accounting only for the records we’ve reviewed, thereby excluding pre-rock sides of certain artists, or pop, jazz or blues oriented B-sides that we left out, nobody else has matched Harris’s success rate after four entries around here and that’s pretty surprising if nothing else.

Maybe it shouldn’t be considered altogether shocking though, at least when evaluating somebody’s talents. Harris was a veteran performer who came from a musical family – her cousin was Louis Armstrong, only one of the top five artists in any field of music in the entire Twentieth Century – and when Harris finally got a chance to record she presumably knew what she could do and what she couldn’t vocally.

She also proved to be incredibly astute when it came to material, at least until this point, picking up on the attitude and excitement of rock ‘n’ roll and wearing it like a second skin. On top of that she was also blessed with skilled backing bands who, for the most part anyway, gave her enough lead to be able to run and let her set the pace, ensuring she wasn’t going to be severely hampered by somebody else’s lack of ingenuity.

As for her voice itself, it was strong and confident with a distinctive tone that was playful, brash and hinted at impudence, all requisite components for a great rock singer.

On No Good Man Of Mine she gets ample opportunity to show off that voice and in Joe Thomas’s band has first rate musicians providing a fairly solid arrangement which grounds the song in the fertile soil it needs to grow.

Unfortunately for the first time Erline’s lyrics are just a bit too unfocused for the record to fully come together, no matter how good everyone sounds.

Designs I Can Not See
The lead-in to this record is somewhat restrained compared to her best efforts, but that’s not a hindrance, especially since you want to show a little stylistic diversity. If everything was taken at the same pace and delivered with the same wild gleam in their eyes then it might get a little stale.

Because of the measured reading of the horns and piano setting the scene however it naturally puts more importance on the contents of the song itself to make up for the lack of firepower.

As Harris kicks it off you’re reasonably assured that everything is going to hit on all cylinders. Her voice is clean and crisp, her intensity is already at full throttle and the topic seems to be right up her alley as she’s describing her love for someone by the way in which his presence in her life effects her.

She’s so frazzled by him that she can’t eat and can’t sleep, presumably because he’s boinking her around the clock or leaving her so physically drained from their nightly trysts that she’s practically an invalid. Needless to say, right away you’re on board.

But then she flips the hole card to show us what we should’ve guessed from a title like No Good Man Of Mine, namely that he’s a cad.

Though she goes on bragging about how good looking he is and claiming that she doesn’t even mind him looking at other women, who apparently are equally smitten with him, the problem Harris faces is in dealing with his litany of cruel behavior towards her.

Now of course this is hardly unique to her… lots of guys, and lots of girls for that matter, offset their physical appeal with personality defects that should make sane individuals turn and run. Hitting the jackpot in bed is hardly worth running up a deficit the other 23 hours of a day and yet sometimes that carnal fulfillment is more than enough to put up with things that should be cause for dismissal.

As a plot therefore we can accept this, even though we’d like to tell Erline to look somewhere else for satisfaction.

What we can’t accept though is how mangled the story becomes the more she tries to tell us.

Yes He’s Rowdy
For starters she’s clearly misplaced her rhyming dictionary. Though finding words to keep the flow sounding good can be thematically limiting, you’ll notice how quickly things go off the rails when the writer fails to follow this basic principle and Harris is no exception, tripping up unnecessarily throughout this tale, most egregiously when she pairs up the words “heart and soul” with “so low down”.

It takes you out of the moment entirely, making you almost feel bad for her rather than listening to what else she has to say.

The other problem with No Good Man Of Mine is that she doesn’t seem to have a point to her story. There’s no resolution for one thing, but there’s also no sense of whether she’s happily accepting his contradictions and flaws in exchange for the late night perks, or if she’s cursing herself for being too weak to break away from him.

Without that being made clear… or even hinting at which way she’s leaning… we’re left adrift, unsure whether to sympathize with her, congratulate her or lecture her on the benefits of celibacy.

All of which is a shame because while she can’t make up her mind, Joe Thomas is forced to bide his time with a sax solo that is just as hesitant to commit either way. Perhaps taking his cue from her failure to make a clean break he taps into that reckless outlook and starts to play with more abandon as it goes along. Throughout this his tone is really nice, his energy is hardly lacking and he’s trying to keep her options open by not going too far out in his exuberance.

The other band members are adequately filling in the cracks, the piano, drums, bass and other horns all just sticking to the basics maybe but at least hitting their marks with precision even if their sense of rhythm at times is somewhat unusual.

But in spite of their overall competence they’re unable to add anything of real value because they haven’t been given a proper mindset to shape their parts. It’s a song that was recorded based on one pretty good, but very incomplete, idea… one that’s not fleshed out lyrically or in its arrangement, leaving it to Harris’s voice and Thomas’s sax to compensate for the lack of preparation.

They do so as well as they can given the circumstances but it can’t elevate what by all rights is a rough draft of a song, not a finished composition.

I’m Tellin’ You People
If this is the worst Erline Harris has to give us, a record that is choppy, somewhat incoherent and unpolished, yet still forcefully executed for the most part, then it bodes well for her ability to rebound in the future.

We can offer some excuses if we want, for who knows how long in advance she knew of this session, her first in over a half a year, or whether she had any clue as to who would be backing her in the studio and what they were capable of as musicians, but that’s not really necessary to defend her reputation.

Though No Good Man Of Mine is below average as a composition, as a general concept it was better than average, as was Harris’s delivery and the primary components of the backing track, all of which should be admired. That our ears are connected to our brains and those brains have had plenty of experience tabulating a song’s worth based on what they’re telling us in a language which has hard and fast rules that are hard to shake free of means this one is going to suffer slightly when we try and make sense of it.

In this case despite those nearly fatal missteps in the song’s construction Erline Harris’s performance is what’s responsible for even getting the score up to average and so in that sense she comes out of this looking pretty good.


(Visit the Artist page of Erline “Rock And Roll” Harris for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)