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Can you sell artistic quirkiness in the long run?

A one-off record that seems to tweak convention or has an off the wall quality that sticks out like a sore thumb can catch on quite easily precisely because it’s so unusual. Word of mouth spreads on things like that and since it sounds like little else on the market it’s celebrated for its uniqueness.

But what if those same quirks are used again? And again? Not because of record companies trying desperately to latch on to an unexpected hit, but rather because that’s just how the artist sounds all the time?

When you’re not anything like your peers, is that a boon or a detriment to your career and can you do anything about it either way?


Ain’t No Kinda Man At All
There was nothing typical in the life of James Wayne. Not his musical sensibilities, not his vocal style, not his background and certainly not his mind which would land him in a lot of trouble down the road.

But while his records were hardly run-of-the-mill rock ‘n’ roll in the early 1950’s, they were mostly very enjoyable and his odd rhythmic sense and cracked vocal chords only made them more endearing… if a little less suited for mainstream consumption.

He’d gotten a hit already with Tend To Your Business and followed it up with Junco Partner, a song that would become even more renown in time, but as good as they were – and they were both great – you could tell that he marched to the beat of his own drummer as it were, as his self-penned songs were vivid depictions of unusual scenarios marked by a very distinctive worldview.

In other words maybe the songs themselves were a little too quirky even before you got to his vocal stylings.

So perhaps that’s why his new label, Imperial, had him cut a song submitted by someone else, Florence Cadrez, who was a pianist who played on the soundtracks to films as well as serving as the secretary for the musician’s union in Los Angeles. She doesn’t have a lot of writing credits to her name, but would have songs of hers cut by T-Bone Walker, Amos Milburn among others, including A Two Faced Man by James Wayne.

Truthfully, it’s not all that far from the kind of song that Wayne himself would’ve penned and anything more “traditional” about it on paper was quickly reshaped in his own inimitable way simply by the way he delivered it making the record utterly distinctive no matter its source.

So much for the best laid plans of mice, men and record companies.


Out To Ball
What’s not unusual, off-beat or out of the ordinary is the horn-heavy rolling musical bed this song rests on which provides the momentum for James Wayne to ride like a bicycle going downhill… all he’s got to do is steer it.

He does that pretty well, although hits a few potholes along the route, most notably with him turning the word “faced” from one syllable to two syllables which – since it’s in the title line – means it’s sort of hard to overlook because it keeps popping up.

But then again, this is James Wayne we’re talking about and it wouldn’t seem exactly right if there wasn’t at least one thing that left you scratching your head. Besides it’s mildly endearing, sort of taking the edge off the accusations against A Two Faced Man, making Wayne seem put upon and frustrated, but hardly threatening.

Maybe that’s not what the song itself has in mind story-wise, but that attitude matches the bouncy horns and suits his odd vocal tone perfectly.

As for that story it’s basically a series of complaints about men who are to be avoided in life, those who steal your wife after borrowing money from you to take her out, drink your whiskey without giving you any of your own hooch, etc.

Now truthfully these situations seem easily remedied without the need for a song… just throw the bum out. You can’t be taken advantage of in life without aiding and abetting the perpetrator by being so gullible. It’s not that this rival is even two-faced, he’s just an asshole – though I’m guessing that language probably couldn’t be included in the lyrics, let alone the title in 1951.

Regardless though, WE know what he is even if Wayne does not. In fact it wouldn’t be surprising to find he merely lost his girl to someone else and this is all just sour grapes on his part, though his sad-sack demeanor does help to sell it more than the lines themselves, even if we’re less sympathetic to him in the process.

The musical backing, much like the story and vocal performance, are enjoyable enough even if it could be improved upon with more focus on the tenor and less on the alto sax which takes away much of the “oomph” it needs to connect on a gut level – though at least the tenor solo is nice enough.

Overall after that strong opening with the hyperactive piano the rest of the track is a little too jazzy. It’ll still move your feet, but maybe not your hips as much which is where the action is.


Grin Right In Your Face
Even with its minor shortcomings this still sounds okay, largely because of Wayne. His charm, his vocal flow, his believability as an actor… his quirks in other words, the very thing that may limit him in the long run are what make a record like this better.

He may not have written A two Faced Man but if you’ve come to know him from his past releases you’d believe he might’ve written it because it’s got his personality stamped all over it.

The New Orleans sessionists have their own fingerprints on it but don’t throw Wayne off in the least, even removing his herky-jerky rhythms he stays upright and headed in the right direction.

Sure, the song might’ve been made better if you replaced one horn with another and if you focused on more closely matching Wayne’s mindset with the lyrics, but in the process you might’ve lost what makes it work in spite of those flaws. If the flaws aren’t fatal, then maybe they’re not flaws after all.

Or maybe the flaws are all just part of the package when it comes to James Wayne.


(Visit the Artist page of James Wayne for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)