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FREEDOM 1511; JUNE, 1949

 
 

 

It’s hardly breaking news that the music industry has changed significantly over the past seven decades. 78 RPM Records gave way to 45 RPM singles which dominated for two decades before yielding to cassettes which were supplanted by CDs which in turn were done in by mp3s and now life exists around streaming services. Tomorrow is sure to bring another means of dispersal.

But while the methods of presentation may change over time what this crazy project hopefully will show is that rock ‘n’ roll is an ongoing continuum. The artists of today are inexorably linked to those from yesterday, sometimes via shared musical approaches, other times by their unique personas, and often merely by the way audiences respond to those who capture their interest.

Not every artist becomes a star, scoring huge hits along the way and cementing their status as a legend not soon forgotten. But for those who fail to reach that goal that doesn’t mean their work fell on deaf ears. In many cases, then and now, there were a smaller vocal contingency of supporters who followed an artist’s work with the same rabid intensity, hyping their records to those they encountered hoping to spread the word about someone they felt deserving of more acclaim… and more sales.

Ultimately we know it’s the sales that will elevate artists to the realm of legends, but occasionally the lack of sales makes those artists perpetually in danger of being forgotten all the more endearing.

Such is the case with Goree Carter.
 

 
Anticipation – (n.) expectation or hope
One of the similarities of the past and present is how anticipation plays into an artist’s potential rise or fall. As this review goes up Janelle Monáe just released her third proper album, the impossibly addictive Dirty Computer. It’s drawing raves from all corners, as it well should, but the subtext to its release is the fact that for all of her undeniable talent she’s still seeking her first real HIT!

While those who’ve been fans for years have no need for “official” confirmation of popularity to know she’s worthy of such stature there’s still been months of steadily building anticipation for this release, hoping that it would be what finally might allow her to break through.

It only just came out today so its ultimate fate is still unknown (we’ll be covering it here on Spontaneous Lunacy in about, oh, a half century or so, depending on how quickly we move… stay tuned!), but she’s hardly the first rock artist who saw their career balancing precariously between being labeled as merely someone with a lot of potential and someone who is universally hailed as a major star.

For most the leap to stardom is the hardest step of all, no matter how much talent they possess. Goree Carter found that out firsthand way back in 1949.

When he released Rock Awhile back in April, a startlingly fresh record featuring his mind-blowing guitar work in support of a loose-limbed ode to the musical revolution called rock ‘n’ roll, it seemed only a matter of time before he made that jump to headlining star. Surely no one with ears could resist the electrifying sound he was unleashing and while Freedom Records might not be quite potent enough to spread the word nationally, he could build his acclaim region by region, starting around the Gulf Coast where he was located and then gradually spread out by touring, as each new record provided people another chance to hear him sell his wares.

Astute listeners had already heard him again, provided they knew where to look of course, as he’d appeared with his fellow Houston area hot-shots who’d backed him as The Hep-Cats on his own record, when he returned the favor by playing on pianist Lonnie Lyons first release, Flychick Bounce, a tight, tough sounding record in its own right that showed the future of rock ‘n’ roll might very well be running through southeast Texas.

So here, with Carter back out front on I’ll Send You, the anticipation for what he might come up with among those who’d been so taken aback by his earlier work was reaching stratospheric heights.
 

Really On The Ball
In many ways Goree Carter represented the second movement of rock music. Though a year and a half may not seem like very long, in truth it marked a pretty clear divide.

Unlike the first wave of artists entering the rock realm who were trailblazing pioneers in search of a new musical form to give voice to their own ambitions, or else were older unwanted refugees from another idiom who sensed in rock a way to hit the reset button on their careers and get a fresh start in a form that seemed ideal for them, the subsequent rush of artists who flooded the market as of late were in the process of taking the early models presented to them and refining the approach by introducing new techniques to those bedrock sounds.

In his case that was clearly accomplished via his scintillating guitar as the primary accompaniment which handled the role usually held down by tenor sax or piano (or, less frequently due to its often disastrous results, the trumpet). Though other guitarists had pre-dated him and delivered very good work, the records they were attached to were far less notable outside of the presence of the guitar as a main component. Not so with Rock Awhile which was every bit as strong from front to back as ANY record to date.

Now on I’ll Send You we find Carter tweaking that formula by attempting to channel some of Roy Brown’s vocal technique into the mix.

It’s important to remember that Carter was still just 18 years old, an impressionable age, and thus it’s hardly surprising that he’d naturally look to Brown who more or less invented rock ‘n’ roll and over the ensuing 22 months became a full-fledged star, to serve as a sort of role model.

As such if you had dreamt of hearing Brown backed by a first-class guitar-slinger, here’s your chance.

But here’s the thing, while Carter’s vocal approach is undoubtedly shaded by Roy Brown right from the start – the tempo, the cadences, the exuberance, it’s all there, plain as day – Carter possesses a voice that is far removed from Brown which means this might be the wrong tact for him to use.
 

If You Let Me
What made Roy Brown so good – even on subpar material – was that his voice was so strong, endlessly supple in how he could apply it and with a sinewy power that defies any attempt to keep it holstered, that it would always be the centerpiece of all of his records. He could wail with abandon, either with despair by using his larynx more, or with excitement by projecting from deeper in his chest, each brilliantly effective for their goals.

But Carter has nowhere near the range, the flexibility or the power to compete with him on these grounds and so his efforts are going to be merely imitative of the technique without having the weapons at his disposal to completely pull it off.

Sure enough on I’ll Send You Carter comes across as frantic once the song launches from its dramatic intro delivered in the low end of his tenor range which shifts suddenly to the faster paced hook that finds Carter struggling to catch up.

The song’s theme is one that is perfectly suited for him, and for rock as a whole, the horny pleas of a confident fella who still finds it necessary to convince the object of his desires to let him do more than simply hold her hand on a walk to her front door, but even that is a notable shift from his tour de force on Rock Awhile where the outcome of his impulses were hardly in doubt. On that he was merely letting all involved know that he was ready for action and women would be wise to save time and merely line up for the chance to be with him.

That confidence surged through every line he sung and when he unleashed his… err… weapon with the guitar breaks the results were suitably climatic.

But here Carter’s cockiness straddles the line between expecting to get this girl and being wary of her rejecting him. Because he’s taking on the vocal persona of somebody else entirely in the bargain he comes across as almost ill at ease about his predicament. The superpowers he wielded so confidently the first time around are missing when he sings to set up the song’s theme and we can sense his discomfort enough to throw us off balance.
 
 

 
 

You’ll Want To Meet Me Twice
But before you start feeling too deflated from the conflict inherent within, both his own outlook as well as his appropriating another singer’s vocal attributes, keep in mind that with this gang of musicians the lyrics are often nothing but a mere formality.

Sure enough their playing bristles with intensity and begins to strain at the seams as it peaks up its pace. Lonnie Lyons carries the rhythm with unyielding determination on the keys, his left hand playing simple but effectively with the bass doubling up on things before Connie Williams cracks the drums with a vengeance to introduce the horns. Conrad Johnson and company let fly now, riffing enthusiastically in the first break which seems to lend Carter some of their self-assuredness when he returns for the next verse.

He’s still forced to adopt a rather deferential role here to the woman (or women plural) whom he’s addressing his come-ons to, but now he’s at least shedding some of the uncertainty that went with it at the start when his pleas for their interest seemed as if they were coming from a position of weakness. Though he hasn’t quite gotten the upper hand just yet, he seems increasingly convinced he’s about to win them over, even adding the rejoinder “it won’t take all night long” about his ability to knock them for a loop in bed to try and seal the deal.

That it won’t, for he follows this up with what we’ve all been waiting for, listener and ladies of the night alike. You knew it was only a matter of time before he pulled it out… his guitar that is… and once he cuts loose there’s never any question as to who is in charge of the proceedings now.

His playing is less melodic but arguably even more ferocious than his first time out on Rock Awhile, much cruder in fact as he careens back and forth, eschewing single string runs for harsher chording, but the effect is palpable all the same. Like a jolt of electricity it turns your head and opens your eyes, forcing you to pay attention and lean forward, so certain you are that danger is imminent, and indeed that something violent may occur.

Though nothing of the sort transpires, he’s asking for the carnal companionship of a woman, not her wallet after all, but his assertiveness verbally was brought out by the instrument’s bold declaration that preceded it. Now he’s vanquished all of his doubts and uncertainty that plagued him early on and those feelings have been replaced by somebody who knows that he’s ultimately going to get what he’s after.
 

You Don’t Have To Be Ashamed
It wasn’t the smoothest of rides to get to that point unfortunately and while it didn’t take any unnecessary detours over ill-chosen musical bridges and there wasn’t any arguing over which road on the map to follow, the transformation required by Carter himself – though pulled off naturally and with a reasonable progression – makes I’ll Send You one record that battled through its deficiencies more than one that effortlessly confirmed his greatness.

Which brings us back to the present as we let Janelle Monáe chime in with a line from her new album that I can’t help but think of and worry about as time winds down to the end of this review.
 

In her spoken interlude on I Like That she reflects back to her childhood when she was sitting in math class in her thrift store clothes and a boy who laughed when she cut her perm off and then to add insult to injury he makes a comment she never forgot. The bile in her throat is evident as she says with utter incomprehension – “and you rated me a 6!”.

The way she indignantly spits out the word “six” as if it were poison hit me unexpectedly hard when listening to it.

One of the things we do here on Spontaneous Lunacy is assign numerical grades to each record, simply as a way to codify the two thousand some odd word review into a single number to give a clearer idea as to where I stand on it. They’re admittedly meaningless, which I think (and hope) most people get, but I do know from experience that even though anything higher than five is “above average” and therefore worthy of being admired, it’s rarely taken as that, especially when someone is handed a score lower than the lofty 9’s and 10’s they (or their supporters) feel they’re deserving of.

Goree Carter is long gone so he won’t be complaining himself no matter what score he receives. Besides he’s already got one ★ 10 ★ to hang his hat on and is in no danger of being forgotten around these parts for sure. But my first instinct was to give this a (6), simply because the anticipation for this release and the high expectations that went with it based on his last outing weren’t quite met even though it remains a rewarding experience overall. I had planned to close the review by saying that occasionally you need to see the greats of the game struggle through a bad day and yet still come out with a win, however minor it may be, to truly get a sense of their abilities.
 

 

I stand by that general assessment. But I also give credence to what Janelle Monáe said recounting the personal blow she felt upon getting tagged with the same score – “I was like ‘Damn!’… But even back then with the tears in my eyes I always knew I was the SHIT!” – her self-confidence and determination shining through.

I’d like to think that’s the reaction Goree Carter would have to getting that score. But then again I’d also like to think that Carter would become a star in short order, wracking up hit after hit, that his career would be rapturously remembered by anyone calling themselves a rock fan and he’d be hailed as being one of the true rock visionaries.

We all know that didn’t happen.

So since this was sitting on that fault line to begin with and since its aggressive instrumentation is what rock absolutely needs going forward, and since it’s hardly fair rating something down a notch simply because it can’t compete with one of the best records we’ve come across to date which he’s already turned in, I’ll defer to Janelle on this one and give the following grade without any shame.

Besides, already we can probably all agree, Goree Carter IS the shit!
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Goree Carter for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)