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Once upon a time Los Angeles was a quiet serene land dotted with pueblos surrounded by lots of open space and no smog.

It’s not like that anymore.

Similarly, not long ago Jimmy Liggins was one of a handful of rock stars who truly mattered. With fewer artists making rock their full-time address in the late 1940’s, Liggins’ continued presence was reassuring for those who wanted to believe this neighborhood would grow larger in time.

Now that it has however, it’s a bit like owning a once-quiet piece of land in L.A. that’s now right next to a freeway or surrounded by skyscrapers… easy to be overlooked.


If I Could Live My Life All Over Again
Of course it’s not just the fact far more artists have moved into the rock neighborhood over the past few years that has dimmed the star wattage of Jimmy Liggins, it’s the fact that even at his best his talents were relatively limited in scope.

He was a good lyricist with a habit of recycling the same musical structure each time out making even solid compositions seem redundant over time.

In the singles era we’re in that may have been a little less of an issue, since there’d be a gap of a few months between releases, but rock fans tend to crave hearing something new and innovative and in Liggins they generally weren’t going to be getting that.

That’s not to say he hadn’t left his mark on Nineteen Fifty-One in some form or fashion, as his Cadillac Boogie was retooled for one of the year’s biggest smashes, Jackie Brenston’s Rocket 88 which Bill Haley had recently released as his own debut in the rock field as well.

But when a record that was now three and a half years old was still more potent than his own more recent releases like Lover’s Prayer which came and went without much notice, it indicated that Jimmy Liggins had become almost an afterthought by now.

You wish you could report that records like this were deserving of more attention but while it’s well executed, it’s also nothing we haven’t heard dozens of times before out of him.


All My Evil Ways I’d Amend
What’s interesting about this song – and this session dating from way back in May 1950 – is that The Drops Of Joy were no longer recording with him since the original unit had split up after Liggins’ near fatal shooting in 1949.

Instead he’s backed by a studio crew led by producer extraordinaire Maxwell Davis on saxophone… which causes you to wonder why Davis, a brilliant songwriter and arranger, didn’t deviate from Liggins’ increasingly stale melodic formula.

It’s not that it’s a bad sound, but Davis knows as well anyone the need to remain fresh and Lover’s Prayer is doing absolutely nothing that countless other Jimmy Liggins’ records didn’t already do.

Maybe it was his nasal vocals that drew more attention to the similar cadences he fell back on, but we’ve seen him approach other songs differently in the past and so either this was a conscious choice to try and recapture a particular feel that had worked well, or sheer laziness.

With a voice that seemed to go with a hang-dog expression, Liggins starts of by asking forgiveness from his sweetheart after dissing her publicly for some reason. He sounds sincere, taking full responsibility for actions, but we never get to the root source of his initial off-screen rift with her.

We assume he was up to no good, cheating on her or drinking excessively and lashing out at her as a result of that, but without a deeper backstory and plausible explanation as to their dispute the sympathy for his situation is lacking no matter how effectively he goes through the motions of being humbled by her reaction. Furthermore, with no three dimensional image of the girl in question we find it difficult to connect with her even if generally we’d like to offer support after his callous treatment of her.

The lines themselves are typically well-crafted, but the slow pace doesn’t leave enough room to get into the story with a little more depth and so it’s mostly an outline rather than a full script and since the lyrics are the only thing even remotely new here, that’s a problem.


Brokenhearted And Crying
Any session led by Maxwell Davis is bound to be professional in every way and feature a tight arrangement and flawless playing and this is no exception.

Those are good attributes of course and much preferable to sloppy musicianship, clashing arrangements and chaotic recording conditions.

So to say Lover’s Prayer sounds fine is not an inaccurate statement, but it is misleading because while every instrument hits their marks, plays on key and lends the right emotional shadings to the song’s content, none of it goes beyond that and stands out on its own.

This is a paint-by-numbers job, each part fitting into the already established roles of others who came before them. In some cases, such as the droning horns, they may even be using the same charts. It’s hard to be distinctive in your playing when the entire point is to replicate somebody else’s, especially when those somebody elses had hardly been playing anything particularly scintillating themselves in days gone by on songs like this.

This is a modest track by design, too fine tuned to be considered tedious, but far too predictable to be impressive. Even Davis’s sax solo is purposefully understated, dragging out each line while the other horns gently sway behind him. His tone is nice, giving some of the notes a rougher smokey sound, but two seconds after it ends you can’t remember the progression.

The best moments actually come following that when Liggins starts to sing again and Davis answers those lines with haunting somewhat distant replies. They’re not anything too innovative musically, but they bring the only real ambiance to the record that catches your ear and so while we can’t find fault with anything being played, it’s hard to praise them for simply doing their jobs credibly.

When I Said I Didn’t Love You No More
Mirroring the path many Oklahomans took during the dust bowl, Jimmy Liggins had moved to California years earlier, following brother Joe when he became a musical force in pre-rock styles.

At the time he arrived in California, though far removed from the days of Spanish Missions before American invaded the region, it was still a somewhat bucolic setting just about a decade or so removed from the days when Sunset Boulevard was still largely a dirt road. But during Liggins’s early days there, the city had been transformed into a sprawling metropolis and was now entering the second half of the century as a gleaming symbol of the space age.

Lover’s Prayer was like that rickety looking car on Sunset Boulevard in 1925, at the time it was a luxury to drive as the road stretched out before you with no end in sight, but in 1951 that car would be slowing traffic as cars whizzed by, eating up the pavement while hurtling into tomorrow.

Jimmy Liggins had once been among the rare few who had the means to travel in the fast lane but as of late it seemed as if he was just looking to pull over to the side of the road and try get his bearings.


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