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Some artists become associated with a certain locale, so much so that while they weren’t born there, never lived there and maybe barely passed through there on their professional travels, they come to be seen as representing that city.

James Wayne was a Texan whose biggest records were cut in that state for record companies within its borders, yet he’s now considered a prime example of New Orleans rock thanks to his stint on Imperial Records… a company based in Los Angeles.

But fear not, he’s at least in a Crescent City studio, backed by the city’s best musicians, so while it may not be his home town, he at least spent the night there once or twice and that will have to suffice.


Headed For A New Destination
To tell the truth there’s not all that much New Orleans musical DNA in this record no matter what address they recorded it at.

Of course James Wayne was so idiosyncratic both as a songwriter and a singer that sometimes you were lucky to be able to identify his work as coming from planet earth.

Considering he had scored a sizable hit for the Texas based Sittin’ In With label you’d think they’d do everything in their power to keep him, but sometimes “everything in their power” doesn’t include actually paying him a fair rate for his services and so Bobby Shad lost Wayne as soon as his contract was up.

Since some of Wayne’s most indelible recordings would appear on Imperial, you’d think this was a step up – a bigger label with better distribution, not to mention being cut by the legendary Cosimo Matassa in his J&M Studio with the cream of New Orleans session men filling out the sound – but Home Town Blues wasn’t among his better efforts, even if it has its charms.

In fact, this stint on Imperial wouldn’t produce all that much of note and he’d be on the move again after two September 1951 sessions held in New Orleans, but in a few years time he’d return to the label and to the city and leave a more lasting impression.

For now, however, he’s just passing through.


They’ll Do Anything To Hold You Back
With its draggy horns on the intro this could’ve been cut anywhere from New York to Los Angeles and nobody would be able to accurately pinpoint its origins. The same could be said of the skittering piano that follows. Of course the fact that Dave Bartholomew was nowhere to be found is probably more responsible for this than anything else, as his rift with Imperial had yet to be smoothed over and so Wayne and company are left to fend for themselves.

It’s not the band however who are a little bit off on Home Town Blues, despite their curious lack of their usual identifying features, but rather Wayne’s usual immpecible storytelling skills are slightly off kilter.

The overall plot is fine, as he’s bemoaning his lack of support around town, the hurt and sadness evident in his voice as he vows to go somewhere else to feel welcome. As interesting as the premise is however Wayne isn’t exactly fleshing out the narrative beyond reeling off a litany of complaints that may very well be the early signs of paranoia rather than evidence to support his claims that he’s been mistreated.


It’s not that he isn’t convincing… I mean, he definitely sounds as morose as can be and so there must be something to his accusations… but woe-is-me screeds of this sort are by nature not very relatable for those who aren’t being shunned by those around them as he seems to be.

For a songwriter who is already renowned for his good eye for detail and clever turns of phrase, this comes across as more of a broad outline than a well-honed composition. Why these folks turn their backs on him is never revealed and so as a result he comes across as whining and since some of the early lines are awkwardly worded – owing mostly to his use of the improper tense – the record has an amateurish quality to it even though the performances, both vocally and that of the band, are perfectly acceptable.

But acceptable isn’t the same as compelling and with its lack of any musical spark (even the slowly winding sax solo is easy to dismiss) and the monotonous down-in-the-dumps mood Wayne strikes from start to finish without giving us much reason to sympathize with him for his plight, this hardly resonates beyond whatever your affinity for his quirky voice may be.

Gloomy atmospheric records aren’t something to be avoided by any means, but they require the listener to be as invested in the situation as the singer is, and here we’re simply left to wonder what he’s not telling us as he heads on down the road, knapsack slung over his shoulder, bound for who knows where.


Going To Put Them Down
Knowing what we do now about the severe psychological issues James Wayne had in the future, this record does provide some early clues as to his state of mind, although I doubt any of it would be admissible in a court of law.

But that knowledge does make this a little more uncomfortable to listen to as you start to wonder how he processed otherwise innocuous things around him where a rushed conversation or a lack of eye contact from someone passing him on the street might become a conspiracy in his fevered imagination, the meaning behind these perceived slights growing over time until it overwhelmed him.

Home Town Blues is therefore something for the case book of a counselor more than for the record collection of a rock fan, though there still is enough modest musical appeal evidenced here to take a listen.

But as you do, keep in mind that any critique of its shortcomings should be made out of earshot, otherwise you might find yourself being the subject of his next record and it’s only fair to warn you that the ending of that song might not be as harmless as the ending of this one.


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