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Walking up or down a hill might be a little more taxing than walking along a flat surface, but once the adjustment is made and the actual steps you take are more or less uniform, it’s not all that hard if you’re in reasonably good shape.

But walking sideways on a hill is a different story. There you aren’t simply making one adjustment for the entire climb or descent and sticking to it, you’re constantly trying to determine what adjustments are necessary for each and every step.

It’s a strange phenomenon that shows the human mind, more so than the legs and feet, are what are really in control your actions and for the bottom half of the body to work effortlessly, the top half has to make sense of it first.

In music your mind likewise needs to have some sort of firmer grip on the song being played… the melody has to progress naturally, the lyrics usually have to be intelligible and the parts all need to fit together.

If things are just a little bit off it throws your brain into turmoil, which Jimmie Lee & Artis seemed intent on proving here.


I Try And Try To Satisfy
On paper this overall approach makes sense.

A slower song expressing romantic confusion tinged with the hope the relationship might work out, but both singers admitting to having more skepticism than optimism. That’s a good idea, but all good ideas need equally good execution to pull it off.

Theoretically the know what to do, starting with the fact they sing in unison for much of it. On the top half – Let’s Talk It Over Baby – those were the best moments, hearing their voices mesh on a slightly faster pace harmony.

Here they also get standalone spots, primarily to further to story’s plot, but also to show off their respective voices and thereby give each of them a firmer singular identity to latch on to. The whole thing is rounded out by Jay Franks’ band playing everything from the discreet meditative backing during the bulk of it, to more energetic solos to give it some life.

That game plan for Why Can’t We See might not be very ambitious… it’s certainly not breaking new ground or trying anything daring… but it’s hard to find an obvious flaw in their goals. Even the way in which it differs stylistically from the other side is a sensible move to ensure audiences get two distinct options to choose from when picking up this single.

But in terms of execution there’s a sense that nobody here was on the same page… or in the same room perhaps… and while there are moments that work well in isolation, when taken together it sort of falls apart.

We Always Try And Deceive
The way this starts off, with two horn lines weaving in and out of each other’s lane, it sounds like it might be aiming at the pop market before it suddenly shifts and the more assertive tenor takes the lead and adds a bit of grit and raunchiness to the proceedings to get it back on track for rock ‘n’ roll.

Okay, a badly conceived, or badly played, intro doesn’t derail an entire record you say, let’s see what else they do from here on in.

Well for starters they let Jimmie Lee and Artis handle the vocal together, a good idea based on past efforts but unlike the other side where their voices blended well, here they’re both struggling to find common ground… or common pitch as it were. It’s got an atonal sound that is disconcerting, making you think one or both must be off-key, but then you see they’re clashing with those horns, but the horn was so distant behind them that it’s not as evident.

The result is Why Can’t We See is an difficult listen. When Jimmie Lee takes a line solo her voice is strong and clear and sounds a bit like Faye Adams a year or so from now and that’s definitely a compliment. Artis isn’t nearly as good of a singer but at least he’s not trying to do too much when he answers her, though that also means he’s not adding much of anything either other than filling in the plot. But neither one seems comfortable sharing the microphone and that translates to us feeling the same when eavesdropping on them.

The story itself isn’t bad, as they’re both down in the dumps about their failing relationship and rather than lay blame they’re taking responsibility and looking for solutions. I think the first order of business is kicking out Artis’s employer, Jay Franks, and his saxophone as he’s the equivalent of the house guest who overstays his welcome, uses up all your clean towels, raids your fridge and parks himself on your couch watching some loud obnoxious shows each evening forcing you to tip-toe around him.

His solo is a little quirky, even if it’s not structurally unsound, but again he seems to have no firm grip on the notes he’s playing, making it always appear to be on verge of collapsing even if it never fully does. But just the sense that it might further emphasizes the unsteady nature of this record, appropriate perhaps for the narrative, but unsettling as always to have to sit through.

Why Don’t We Stop This Pretending
I still think there’s a halfway decent song buried here somewhere, but it’s all but unreachable through the quagmire of the clashing arrangement it’s housed in.

Maybe the goal with everybody’s performance on Why Can’t We See was to show the uneasiness this couple are living through by making us just as unsettled while listening to them, but I think that’s giving them credit for more than they deserve.

Most of the time the answer is much simpler, they simply were never in sync and everything got thrown off as a result of it, much like trying to walk a straight line on the side of a hill.

None of them seem to have solid footing here and we’re just waiting for them all to take a tumble and roll down to the bottom in a tangle heap. So let’s just get out of their way and not get bowled over ourselves when it inevitably happens.


(Visit the Artist page of Jimmie Lee & Artis for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)