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FREEDOM 1536; APRIL 1950



Usually when an artist forsakes their typical stylistic approach for something far more experimental it’s done in a transparent, often vain, attempt to show off their creativity in a quest for some sort of artistic kudos.

It’s also usually done when the artist in question is already popular enough to ensure that the odd stylistic curveball won’t hurt their career any.

Goree Carter however was hardly popular enough to take such a risk… which in a way is what makes his attempts here all the more admirable.


I Can’t Explain The Way I Feel Towards You
It’s strange in a way to be writing about the last released side of Carter on Freedom Records and have it be something that is so atypical for both artist and label, but in a weird sort of way it’s also strangely appropriate.

Though at his core Goree Carter was (quite literally) the prototypical hyped up guitar rocker, he’s changed elements from record to record, taking on different vocal inflections and adjusting the instrumental balance, restlessly curious to explore different sounds while still remaining identifiable and true to himself.

With Serenade he delivers something completely out of left field, something which came about because Goree was trying to give his younger brother Edward a break, the plan being to let him play trumpet on one of his songs. When his brother couldn’t stay in key however they were wise enough to shelve those efforts – apparently musical aptitude didn’t necessarily run in the family – but Goree was a loyal and considerate sibling and so rather than let him down he suggested they try something else.

Edward was always whistling around the house and so Goree devised an idea around that and quickly composed a Mexican-styled song in the studio that he felt would lend itself to the whistling.

It’s an idea that sounds forced and convoluted on the surface, but Goree’s creativity is on full display here, giving us a song that fits in with nothing else he did but in the process confirms that he had the right mindset as an artist all along – take chances, experiment, be flexible and adapt to the circumstances you find yourself in.

Something Deep Down Inside
Why Carter initially associated whistling with Spanish-styled music might not be apparent but when listening to this you can definitely feel the connection.

As befitting something that was conceived in fifteen minutes out in the studio’s hall Serenade is a minimalist interpretation of a vague sensibility that’s fairly effective considering it’s so unlike what he was used to doing. His haunting guitar opening is evocative of something you might see in a Sergio Leone Western – the kind of music playing while the camera pans a sprawling vista parched by an unrelenting sun.

He’s backed only by Allison Tucker’s simple drums during this stretch and when Edward Carter’s whistling starts – and yes, Goree was right, Edward can indeed whistle well – the melodic foundations are in place for a experimental mood piece that would’ve been ideal as the closing track on a long playing album sometime in the late 60’s after nine high octane rockers interspersed with two woozy ballads.

Unfortunately it’s 1950, not 1967, and this is a single – even if only a B-side – and so as interesting as it is there’s little chance for it be broadly accepted, or perhaps even to be widely understood.

When Goree starts to sing he tries keeping that same melancholy feeling while ruminating on the travails of love in fairly broad strokes. Rudimentary though the lyrics may be, they’re certainly no more so than songs that had been worked out in greater detail than this and his mixture of hope, desire, fear and confusion while trying to get a handle on reading the emotions of women is an apt topic for any guy to explore no matter how simple and direct the lyrics are.

Maybe it would work better as a short impressionist film, you know the kind, one with lots of long shots, sudden cuts and artistic ambiguity galore on the screen, but for a three minute song that a teenager came up with on the fly it’s still fairly impressive, no matter how uncommercial it might be.


Always Be True
All that being said though let’s not mislead anyone with this in regards to its merits as a record in the rock field… or for that matter in Goree Carter’s ongoing attempts to break out of a cycle of public indifference to his career.

Serenade isn’t remarkable in of itself by any means, and I’ll be damned if I can find a way in which you’d call this a vital track in understanding how rock ‘n’ roll was progressing in 1950. But even if we choose to dismiss it as merely a throwaway B-side the fact remains it’s at least far more interesting than most of what we’ve encountered along the way, whatever that’s worth.

Granted on the open market it’s probably not worth much, but as a window into an artist’s imagination and resourcefulness its value goes up considerably.

Rock ‘n’ roll needed artists who thought outside of the box, for the box is what the music industry wants to keep you in simply because it’s easier to control. Carter blew the lid off that box right away, then climbed out of it and ran wild ever since.

This record is keeping in line with that type of thinking and though its uniqueness makes it tough to fairly asses when trying to place it in the bigger picture of rock’s evolution, it’s hard not to reward this kind of experimental instinct for taking creative risks at a time when he can probably least afford to do so.

Far from being a case of artistic beatification though, maybe the best defense of it is simply that if we don’t give credit for creativity when it comes to making music then we’ll be sentenced to a lifetime of hearing the same old thing regurgitated ad nauseum and nobody in their right mind wants that.

In that spirit, while this is hardly something you’d pull out to show what rock music was at any point during its rise to the top, it’s also something that might be the perfect example to show how rock artists made a practice of subverting expectations which is the very thing that allowed the music as a whole to thrive for seventy years and counting.


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