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IMPERIAL 5085; JULY 1950



Finding the right balance in most aspects of a person’s life is never an easy thing.

How much time to devote to studying versus playing as a kid, or conversely the need for work and the desire for leisure as an adult, are things that few ever are comfortable saying with any assurance that they have figured out.

The failure to learn just how much to save and how much to spend is what keeps accountants in business, just as gyms benefit from people not being able to determine how much food to leave on the plate and how much to shovel in your mouth.

Entire treatises could be written regarding the balance required in relationships starting with when you first meet and you’re deciding just how much interest to show in that person… too much and you risk coming across as desperate, too little and the other person starts to think you’re not serious.

In music of course there’s plenty of areas where finding the perfect balance remains elusive… there’s the constant question of balancing art vs. commerce… whether to follow popular trends or attempting to start your own… and the ongoing quest to maintain the proper ratio of uptempo tracks and ballads are all things artists struggle with over their careers.

In this case however what’s out of balance is found in the arrangement and trying to make sure each instrument fits in without being overexposed. Since this is something the people making this record usually have no trouble nailing their slip-ups here become all the more noticeable in retrospect.


Early In The Morning
In the early days of rock there were just a handful of top-notch producers as that position in music as a whole was really only starting to become a priority of record labels.

At the top of the list in rock ‘n’ roll were Maxwell Davis and Dave Bartholomew (Henry Glover, of King Records, would be the third in that trinity, but his emergence was more discreet in many ways, so we’ll set him aside from the sake of this essay).

The similarities between Davis and Bartholomew (and Glover for that matter) were obvious – horn players themselves with writing and arranging skills, they moved into production when the need arose and never left that chair.

But the differences were just as notable. Whereas Davis was cooly efficient, refining what worked and tweaking it as required along the way, Bartholomew was often restlessly ambitious and as is often the case the more you try and make your mark in innovative ways, the more likely you are to stumble on the way there.

Maybe the best way to put it is this: Sometimes Bartholomew’s reach exceeded his grasp, an admirable failing, but a failing nonetheless. In time his instincts would become razor sharp and he’d rarely misjudge the formula required to execute his plans, but at the moment though, just beginning his career as a producer, he was still trying to work through all of the ideas in his head and find a way to bring them to fruition.

It didn’t always work… such as with Brand New Baby, a decent song with a few too many parts that never fully mesh.


I Swear It’s Not The Same
It’s hardly surprising that this was a cut from taken from Fats Domino’s first session… nor is it surprising it was the last to be issued from those songs… because this was a case where they seemed intent on filling a need, in this case a ballad, without quite knowing the best way to do so while still taking advantage of Fats’s natural gifts.

Brand New Baby reveals its conflicts early on as Fats starts with a slow glissando which creates a much more delicate vibe than we’re used to with him, not to mention maybe setting a more uncertain path for the musicians to follow. You’ll give them all the benefit of the doubt as they’re trying for a more reflective mood and as this is the first romantic ballad he’s tackled maybe it’ll take a few seconds for them to find their footing.

But as it goes on the problems become more apparent as each of the instruments is left far too exposed in the arrangement, almost as if Bartholomew knew he couldn’t throw too many things into the mix with a less rambunctious song and so rather than keep it dense but merely ease back on the forcefulness with which it’s played, he stripped away entire parts instead. Unfortunately what’s missing are the very things that are needed to fill out the sound.

The instrument most affected here is Ernest McLean’s guitar which sounds positively naked with nothing else buttressing it. With Fats just playing plaintive triplets with no effort to beef up the rhythm with either his left hand or the bass and drums the structure is already breaking down, resulting in a halting, tentative feel as if they didn’t quite know what they should be doing.

The horns are where we’d expect them to make up the difference, but they too are given parts that are far too sparse to be effective, droning rather than riffing, and the guitar is therefore left to add all of the melodic touches. They’re well-played at times but sound almost as if they’ve been imported from another record – some being dashed off much too fast for the song, others ponderously slow – and as a result you never once settle into a groove.

Know How To Take Her Time
Whether it was the barren track that threw him or if he was just a little self-conscious singing something taken at a more deliberate pace, Domino is almost as unsure of himself as the rest of the band here, which is a shame because the song as written isn’t half bad.

The concept behind Brand New Baby is hardly original, as Fats is enamored with his new girlfriend and still at that stage in a relationship where every trait is endearing and he views each thing she does as a sign of her devotion.

There’s a few good lines sprinkled in too, particularly in the latter half when he crows about how “She don’t (go for) fancy dancin’ and she don’t care about movie shows”, and if he misses the two words in parenthesis to make it more grammatically clear, at least the inference isn’t lost in the process and he sounds so endearing conveying these sentiments that you’re willing to forgive some of the uncertainty in his delivery.

But the problem is by taking it so slow it puts more weight on the lyrics than they’re able to withstand. They aren’t very deep, it’s just modest praise delivered in a disarming manner and when he’s got to repeat the first lines of each stanza due to the structure of the song you find yourself urging him to hurry up to get to the resolution in the hopes something unexpected might happen to justify the time spent with this shy twosome we’re hearing about at length.

Since it’s obvious they’ll be doing nothing more than perhaps sharing a milkshake together we’re going to have to get some kind of captivating instrumental break to win us over, but instead we get perhaps the most ill-conceived one ever found on one of his records with McLean’s guitar sounding more like a banjo or ukulele being strummed twenty paces from the microphone while Fats twiddles the keys absentmindedly.

Today, with Domino’s persona burned deeply into the collective psyche of rock fans, we might find this genial modesty he displays a bit more appealing since it shows him in a different light than we became accustomed to, but honestly when taken at face value for the time this was released it might struggle to even earn the score we’re giving it.



Goes Wherever He Goes?
For some reason it’s never easy criticizing a subpar record from a truly beloved artist, as many of these records will surely still have plenty of fervent defenders therefore making it seem like we’re somehow being unfairly harsh by contrast.

The fact is that over time we become so attuned to a great artist’s strengths… their vocal identity, their instrumental fingerprints, the way their personalities are embedded into their songs… that fans tend react strongly to the power of their character even when the qualities which built their image are not on display.

Such is the case for Brand New Baby, a song that for a Domino partisan may give them just enough of a glimpse of the familiar face and persona to absolve it of its failures to deliver more than that.

Yet at the time this came out that persona had yet to be universally acknowledged… he had one national hit to his credit, a second that was locally popular, but he was still a fleeting figure to most, someone for whom more was needed to fully put him over with a mass audience.

That’s when it helps to ask yourself if THIS side was the one you had to count on for him to make that leap, would you feel even remotely confident in the outcome?

In the end while this may not be so terrible that it should be cast aside altogether, it clearly shows that Domino and Bartholomew still had some work to do before stardom was all but assured.


(Visit the Artist page of Fats Domino for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)