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Being instantly recognizable as an artist has its benefits but when your sound – and in fact your entire basic approach – doesn’t change much from one record to another it can also have rather obvious drawbacks.

Jimmy Liggins was fortunate he came along in the singles era where the public got just two new songs by an artist every few months. Then rather than focus on the repetitive song structure, vocal delivery and cadences that he stuck with for years, you could instead learn to appreciate his great bands and his better than average lyrical skills.

But as the songs start to pile up after three and a half years as a recording artist it’s admittedly a little harder to put those past records out of your mind when you hear new ones that sound a lot like the old ones even if they’re never out and out copies of his past musical endeavors.


Nobody Can Take The Place Of You
The approach that Jimmy Liggins favors for (I guess you’d call them) “ballads” is hardly an unusual one, just your basic 12 bar blues AAB form, a lead line that is then repeated before wrapping up with the third line in the stanza, but while it can be very effective – and has been in the past for Liggins – it also draws undue attention to his vocal limitations.

Never the best vocalist to begin with, Liggins’ nasal tone and sleepy delivery were exacerbated when sticking to this slower Adagio tempo which in turn sort of hamstrung the musicians when it came to adding elements of their own to distract you from the somewhat ponderous pace.

The fact that both sides of this record use almost identical trappings – tempo, key and structure – is a really unfortunate choice by Specialty because you can’t escape the mood no matter which song you choose.

That’s a shame because once you get past the all-too familiar atmosphere Down And Out Blues is actually pretty well written even if it’s so bound in by stylistic convention that there’s little room for he and the band to maneuver to make it seem fresher.


Try And Get Me A Place To Stay
The plot of this song can be deduced simply by looking at the title, as Liggins is bemoaning his lot in life and while the aforementioned structure means it takes awhile to get much information out of him, the lines he does deliver shows some creativity as well as manage to elicit a fair amount of sympathy even before we get to his mother dying.

It seems his friends have abandoned him – why we don’t know, maybe because he kept singing the same way and they went looking for a mariachi band to add some spice to their daily entertainment – and when he turns to his girlfriend (present tense, surprisingly) hoping for a shoulder to cry on and a roof over his head, she tells him bluntly, ”Please don’t bring your troubles this way”, surely one of the more politely snide put-downs we’ve encountered in awhile.

From there he wanders around the countryside aimlessly, looking in vain for somebody who might care, his sad sack delivery matching the lyrics step for step, showing that in THIS case anyway the structural concept for Down And Out Blues was an appropriate one.

But while the story has enough details about his mindset to suffice it has no back story and no resolution which means everything hinges on how quickly and deeply we connect with him personally and that may vary far too much from listener to listener to make for a guaranteed response.

I’m Gonna Start Out Walkin’
With Maxwell Davis producing we’re assured of a solid arrangement and smooth playing from whatever crew he assembled, but because of the style of song there’s not going to be many standout performances… they’d be out of place and overshadow the singing and story while upsetting the ambiance required to keep this on point.

The horns are obviously the engine driving this car, even if they’re forced to keep it in low gear – moaning on the intro to set the mood before easing back to add the melodic flavor behind Liggins on the initial verses. It’s modest and discreet as you’d expect with Davis at the helm.

But during the second stanza Davis starts to add different textures as he moves to the forefront with his sax to alternately prod, respond to and comment on Jimmy’s vocals in a subtle back and forth that gives this section a little more life even though the pace remains the same.

It’s another layer that’s all, making you think there’s something more going on than there actually is, but considering the limitations Davis has to work with when it comes to how Down And Out Blues was written it gives the song just enough of a wrinkle to not let the arrangement become so cut and dried you fall asleep.

Unfortunately it still could use something else… something they had in the studio but again chose not to feature, namely Liggins’s own guitar.

He would always complain they never let him play it much on record and here’s a song where just a few well-timed licks would’ve added something interesting, a distinctive surge of electricity to offset the sighing horns and ringing piano keys. He wouldn’t have had to play a long solo, just eight bars before handing off to Davis, but the variance in their sounds would make enough of an impact to change your impression of the song.

Instead it sticks to what they started with and while nothing is out of place, nothing much stands out about it either.


My Money Done Run Out
There’s a difference – at least I hope it comes across as a difference – between being unenthusiastic about something and being critical of it.

Jimmy Liggins is someone I really like… someone you want to root for… a late to the party musician who was self-taught and found he had a knack for telling good, if relatively simple, stories that took advantage of his sincerity and a great band.

Yet he was also someone whose musical vision was confined to a few basic models and even when paired with a talent as immense as Maxwell Davis there wasn’t enough variation within each of his primary concepts to really set the songs apart.

Down And Out Blues follows the pattern set by a number of his earlier sides in the same slow introspective approach… vocally, lyrically and instrumentally. Each of those components are carried out well here but there’s still a nagging sense you’ve heard it all before.

Since those previous records were pretty good it stands to reason this one is as well, but when covering the same basic ground yet again, while at the same time starting to appear slightly out of date now that we’re a few years past the time when we first heard this kind of thing, it’s hard not to be a little more impatient with him.

There may not be anything altogether wrong with it but we want to hear new sounds, new ideas, new perspectives… new melodies and vocal cadences too! We don’t get much of that here and so while it’s too good for us to lay into them too harshly for these shortcomings, it’s not innovative enough to effusively praise for what it still does fairly well.

I guess the lesson we’re trying to convey is that “tough love” is still love in the end even if sometimes it doesn’t seem that way when you’re on the receiving end.


(Visit the Artist page of Jimmy Liggins for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)