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Listening to Jimmy Liggins sing always invites the question as to how somebody’s mouth could be simply a mirage… a visual embellishment for their face that serves absolutely no purpose, for it’s not his mouth, throat, larynx or diaphragm that is the source of his singing voice but rather it’s his nose.

A nice nose, I’m sure. Sitting unobtrusively in the middle of his face in perfect symmetrical position below and between his eyes and right above that inactive mouth that is merely for show, it takes on the appearance of a rather innocuous part of the human anatomy. You breathe through it, smell through it, pick it and blow it, but you aren’t meant to sing through it.

But it’s amazing how many famous singers never learn that.

We Must Go Along Together
Jimmy Liggins was one of the first rockers – but hardly the last – to fail to master the proper technique for song projection, but we’ve grown relatively accustomed to it by now and while still frustrating at times it’s not in of itself a song killer.

His melodic similarity from song to song however is much less forgivable and when combined with his submerged tones it sometimes becomes hard to appreciate anything else he may be offering – from story to individual lyrics to instrumental accompaniment, all of which tends to be pretty good no matter how he otherwise sounds.

On Sincere Lover’s Blues he really does try and deliver something different, quite radically at times too, but while we’ll debate whether that approach is effective it ultimately doesn’t matter much when the overall sound of this record becomes otherwise indistinguishable from so many other slower paced songs in his catalog because he can’t seem to overcome his primary weakness.

Allowing that shortcoming to overwhelm our assessment of his overall career is hardly fair to him. It’s like complaining that Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t a good free throw shooter while ignoring everything else he was delivering on the court. In Jimmy Liggins’s case he was a good songwriter with constantly interesting perspectives, unique conceptual ideas and a fair amount of lyrical talent and he was always blessed with a really strong band.

But the reason why Liggins always fell short of being included in the first generation of rock’s elite was because he never seemed to progress after his strikingly good early sides. His strengths and weaknesses as an artist remained unchanged over time making him one of the more frustrating figures in rock’s formative years.


Make My Blood Run Cold
This is another of his slow-to-mid paced laments wherein he’s taking a philosophical look at a troubling matter. Like so many of his other songs that have mined similar themes the song’s familiar melody rises and falls with his voice rather than the instruments and never varies from one line to the next, no matter what it is he’s trying to get across.

Here though he DOES throw something new and inventive into the mix, although it happens to also be the least effective thing he does – either because he doesn’t quite far enough to sell it, or he goes too far and turns what might otherwise be a redundant sob story into one that’s uncomfortable to hear because of the fact he’s liable to break into tears at any point.

Yeah, that’s the wrinkle he puts in this suit. He gets audibly choked up at various stages as he’s trying to convey his sadness over his fate with the girl he still loves but whom is apparently about to dump him despite – or because – of his emotional protestations.

The problem with doing this – and, fair warning, he won’t be the only one in rock history to try this difficult maneuver – is that there’s really no place to go with it. Singing and crying are diametrically opposed to one another. A singer can sound sad of course but when they do they still need to stay in key and hold the melodic thread, whereas actual crying is an act where “control” is the first thing to disappear.

Generally speaking (with apologies to Johnnie Ray and Clyde McPhatter who are the exceptions that prove the rule), crying while you sing takes on a farcical nature if you make it more obvious than just a simple moment of choking up on a line for added emphasis.

If you actually break down while singing then invariably the song itself will break down as well which tends to send records off the rails entirely, or at the very least makes them more of a novelty that doesn’t lend itself to repeated listening.

Liggins tries to hedge his bets on Sincere Lover’s Blues by picking and choosing the lines on which he’ll start to crack, pulling back just before he lets himself go over the edge. By delivering the next line normally it serves to show how phony his emotional display really is. Instead of building up, trying to hold off on crying before dissolving into hysterics, he’s like a first time driver, stepping too hard on the gas and then easing off it entirely until you practically stop.

It becomes so distracting that you barely notice what he’s telling us that’s supposedly putting him in this state of mind to begin with. When you do force yourself to pay attention to the words you find it’s the same run-of-the-mill situation of his insecurities getting the best of him that have beset so many other singers who’ve managed to rein in their sobbing better than Jimmy is doing, yet because the story has no specifics, just generalities, it doesn’t matter if he breaks out a hanky or not, we don’t have much sympathy for his plight either way.


My Life Is In Your Hands
The band is left to wipe up after his outpouring of emotion and try and make him – and the record – more presentable.

Though they’re being dubbed The Drops Of Joy, the band that have given that moniker a good name over the past few years have departed and these are mostly experienced session players who are more than capable of fitting the bill.

Unfortunately not even the great Maxwell Davis is skilled enough to come up with a new way to sell the same basic tune and so while Sincere Lover’s Blues has a tight efficient arrangement – with even the trumpet for once being used properly by lending an obvious but still appreciated elegiac touch to the proceedings – it still remains a fairly rote performance all around.

Davis’s sax is purposefully sluggish, full of hesitancy which is an interesting choice to try and mirror Liggins’ uncertain state of mind, but it’s hardly very gripping stuff.

The problem of course is Liggins had two basic song structures, fast and slow (or upbeat and downcast if you prefer to use the sentiments used rather than the musical touches to describe them) and because all of the ones falling under each particular heading had the same melodies he was limited in his options.

If he came up with something different for the bridge, maybe ramp up the pace to a double-time tempo where he could start reeling off his evidence as to her lack of commitment in a stream-of-consciousness flow, that’d give this a much different feel. If he let somebody else – like Davis – write the music and provide him with a few “dummy lines” (nonsensical words that simply give the lyricist the proper cadence to use when substituting his own lyrics), then chances are Liggins would come up with something equally good to match it.

But left to his own devices he keeps falling back on the same old formula and it takes an awful lot of inspiration in his lyrics and the band’s performance to overcome the feeling of having heard it all before.

No Greater Truth Was Ever Told
It’s not an easy thing to criticize somebody who’s legitimately given so much to rock’s rise as Jimmy Liggins has. His early templates in terms of content and attitude were what helped establish rock as something decidedly different and when he’s tapped into the same well of creativity he’s shown he’s still capable of striking oil.

Yet with Sincere Lover’s Blues it painfully obvious that he’s just repeatedly mining the same vein over and over again, not – as so often happens – because he’s desperately trying to recapture an earlier hit with the same approach, but rather because he’s somehow just not aware of how blatantly he’s repeating himself each time out.

You want to like this more than you do, but after being stuck too often with inferior retreads sung in the same nasal tone it gets harder to be generous. Even when Liggins tries mightily to come up with a new twist to keep them fresh they wind up sounding as if he’s merely resorting to gimmicks.

He may be sincere in his efforts but at times like this the bad results won’t get him much of a reprieve.


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