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The last thing anybody wants to have said of them is that what they produce in life could just as easily be done by somebody else.

I think it’s safe to say that if your work is seen as interchangeable with whatever temp worker wanders aimlessly into the office on a Monday morning then maybe it’s time you reassess your choice in careers.

Naturally this is hardly the type of ominous rumination that an artist wants to see acting as a lead-in to one of their records, even if being a featured performer was something of a sideline for the artist in question, as it was for Harry Crafton.


Nobody There But Me
We’ve met Crafton on a couple of records released under his own name thus far and ran into him a few more times as a songwriter and guitarist which were his primary occupations and he’s impressed in each of those roles. Whether his most burning career aspirations included being a star in his own right or if Gotham Records simply saw the value in adding him as a standalone artist to fill up their label’s rather limited roster however isn’t entirely clear.

Whatever his goals though he was hampered oddly enough by the fact he was such a good guitarist in an era that didn’t yet value the instrument as it would in a half dozen years or so. Don’t get me wrong, good musicians are rarely going to be penalized by listeners for playing well, no matter how blasé that audience might be about the sonic textures of the instrument in question, but still it’s tough to make headway commercially when your greatest skill isn’t going to advance your cause much.

When you do get your chance to step out front, you better take advantage of it, even if you defer to others out of habit, letting the other musicians play off one another, building towards a collective performance that highlights everybody’s strengths rather than focus solely on your own.

So Long Baby does none of these things. At best it’s competent and professional, which is merely to be expected not celebrated.

There has to be a moment in the studio whether you’re the producer in the booth or a participant on the floor when you’ve run down the song in question a few times and just know you aren’t getting a record that will stir any interest.


This Stuff You’ve Been Putting Down
When trying to make a name for yourself as a guitarist it sure doesn’t help when the song in question features a slow, almost draggy, pace with little in the way of instrumental flourishes to make your presence known.

Of course it’s not out of place here since that type of playing matches the tedious lyrics about another one of these no-good women all musicians of this era seemed to wind up with for some reason (who knows, maybe Wynonie Harris hoarded all the fun loving ones for himself – I wouldn’t put it past him).

The components used on So Long Baby are therefore decidedly run of the mill by nature. There’s not a single aspect of it that jumps out at you, nothing to show they spent much time on it even. The droning horns set a downhearted mood but the lines themselves are tired, uninspired and all seemingly pulled from the dog-eared arrangement book that passed from one house band to another at a string of dingy nightclubs.

Crafton’s guitar gets in some nice subtle licks every so often but they’re given no more responsibility than to serve as atmosphere when what the song desperately calls for is a mid-song gut-wrenching, fist-clenching, string-bending, heartrending solo to get across his despondent frame of mind. If he’s supposed to be so blue then we need some sign of his inner turmoil and the guitar is the one instrument more than capable of delivering that, especially when played by someone with his ability.

Yet he largely keeps it under wraps, letting it surface only to fill in a few holes in the arrangement, and so rather than sympathize with him for his troubles we’re merely annoyed he’s stopped to tell us about them and hope we can come up with a reasonable excuse to make our exit.

You Played It Much Too Cool
In spite of the weak framework and lack of quality materials, or at least under-using the materials they had which were good, there’s still a few rays of sunshine which peak through the overcast skies.

I suppose that shouldn’t be altogether shocking since these guys weren’t some hacks who just stepped into the studio for the first time, but what IS surprising is that the most enjoyable aspect of it is the least expected… namely Harry Crafton’s vocals.

He was never going to be known for the quality of his voice but we’ve seen other successful artists, including his labelmate Jimmy Preston, working with equally modest pipes and do quite well with them by taking advantage of their best qualities while concealing their weaker points. Here Crafton shows us that he actually has much better tone than we’d given him credit for in the past. There are times on So Long Baby where he holds certain notes well past what we thought he was capable of and the results are entirely pleasing to the ear.

One of the things which gives away an untrained vocalist, or someone lacking in self-confidence when they open their mouth, is the habit of cutting their lines short, not wanting to over-expose their voice to critics. Another tip-off as to someone’s lack of experience is the tendency to overemphasize certain lines, as if they think volume equates with effort and implies greater meaning when they bear down harder on a word or two.

Crafton doesn’t fall pray to that at all here, in fact he shows remarkable restraint and judgement, letting his words drift into the ether as if he’s caught up in the real life aspects of the story and is confused and worn down by what’s happening to him. Those moments, most of which come early on, connect best, giving us some insight into his predicament.

But the longer it goes on the more he falls back on the typical amateur tricks we just spent a paragraph criticizing. Granted he doesn’t do a complete about-face and hit every vocal landmine in his path, but his voice swells unnecessarily, and unconvincingly for that matter, at the midway point to try and compensate for the horns, drums and his own guitar falling well short of conveying the right amount of despair. By now the tenuous feelings we had for his dilemma slip away, never to return.


Woke Up This Morning Crying
What’s frustrating about all of this is not that what they play itself is bad, but rather the fact they seem to have no ambition on this to try and make it GOOD. All they seem to want is to come up with something that just won’t embarrass them when it’s put out.

So Long Baby can’t be called embarrassing, so I guess mission accomplished then, but the bigger mission should’ve been to try and establish Harry Crafton as something other than simply a sideman stepping into the spotlight.

That he’d go on to release a lot of singles over the years tells you that he, or Gotham, took this work seriously over time, but apparently not seriously enough to work towards getting something with more substance down on tape.

Instead this is a song that unless you were tasked with writing roughly two thousand words on it is something you’d hardly notice as it was playing. For someone who was still in need of an identity it’s not the best thing to be able to say that Harry Crafton could’ve just as easily been replaced in the studio with any one of a hundred different interchangeably anonymous artists who could’ve come up with something exactly the same as this without too much effort.


(Visit the Artist page of Harry Crafton for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)