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Redundancy is probably an unavoidable side effect of a project of this size and scope. Three and a half years into rock’s evolution has given us close to a thousand songs to analyze from a few hundred artists and it’s inevitable that they’ll be beset with same strengths and weaknesses much of the time.

Eventually those strengths and weaknesses start to change, the successes with what had once been deemed experimental risks lead to a gradual acceptance of their traits which then in turn get further refined by more artists seeking to take advantage of them.

Meanwhile the stylistic flaws that marred so many early efforts will be cast aside at some point and new problems will emerge to take their place.

But for now there are still a few old familiar shortcomings that keep cropping up again and again, forcing us to make the same redundant points to have to explain them, all while counting the days until the artists will finally get the message and move on to something a little fresher for us to criticize when they fail to live up to our expectations.


Did My Best To Please
With so many records shooting themselves in the foot by relying on the same outdated concepts when it comes to arranging horns, the reasons for this record’s failure should come as no surprise to anyone.

In fact that mentality is almost what caused the top side of this release, That’s The Guy For Me, to teeter on the edge of irrelevancy itself, rescued only by Kitty Stevenson’s yeoman work on the vocals.

Stevenson is nearly as strong on Make It Good, which makes it at least worth hearing, but unfortunately the type of song this is means there’s far more responsibility being carried by the musical arrangement and as a result not even Stevenson can keep its head fully above water in the end.

She gives it a good try though, her piercing voice quickly finding the emotional center of the song, fixating on the romantic urgency of the character and trying to wring out of it some deeper connection that listeners might relate to.

But the problem is the lyrics are far too vague and intrinsically shallow in their message. Its perspective is shaky to start with, giving us a woman who is ruing her bad choices with past beaus and yet remains defiantly optimistic about finding the kind of man who can please her the way she deserves. Okay, fair enough, we wish her well, but neither the failures nor the successes in love that she describes have any real authenticity to them. They’re based on generalities, not specifics and as a result none of it comes to life. We know she’s sad only because she tells us that, not because the scant details being offered have any impact on us.

She’s far better when she recounts a past love that met her standards, her voice rising with arousal as she recalls the way “he would throw me to my knees”… a rather odd image to try and make sense of, but we don’t need the schematic layout to understand her meaning by the way she sells it.

Unfortunately that’s about the only time she gets to lay into any feelings that are being replicated by the band, who sound as if none of them had any loving of their own since Franklin Roosevelt’s second term in office.


Made One Bad Move
When Todd Rhodes began making music professionally prohibition was the law of the land, radio was still a ways off from becoming a fixture in American homes and Kitty Stevenson was just a toddler.

That he was able to weather the changes over the next quarter century, taking a long recording sabbatical in the midst of it before re-emerging as a fairly consistently committed rocker as he approached his fiftieth birthday is somewhat remarkable all things considered.

When you keep all of that in mind you might have a little more leniency when it comes to assessing his deficiencies here… but only a little.

We don’t give free passes to old folks just for having the wherewithal to keep up to date when it comes to the music they tackle, especially when, as is the case with Make It Good, they don’t turn the calendar forward far enough to fit in this day and age.

Clearly this was not because Rhodes was unable to understand or relate to current musical trends, he’d already shown he was more than capable of delivering in that regard, but rather he seemed to be momentarily fixated on a different aesthetic which was more in vogue a decade earlier and he wanted to scratch that itch awhile. But unfortunately that desire to take the horns back to an earlier time gives his co-star on this record no chance to really shine, despite her valiant efforts.

After a halfway decent, but still woefully out of place, moaning intro, what follows is stilted and awkward and overly formal, recalling a war-time dance where soldiers would hope to “innocently” cop a feel on a USO girl before being shipped out.

While these horn charts would be much more at home during that era, they still wouldn’t be anything noteworthy even back then. This is a run-of-the-mill arrangement no matter the time period and with this style long since out of date they wouldn’t even get modest credit for being admirably professional.

You keep hoping that there’s something different still to come… more modern or at least more adventurish… but Rhodes and company stick to this motif with stubborn ignorance. As with everything his band did you can’t find fault in the playing itself – in fact, sticking this alongside vintage tracks from Andy Kirk and His Clouds Of Joy it wouldn’t sound out of place – but music needs to be of its own time, not a previous era, and this fails to convince you that any of them were aware the war had ended, let alone a new one was just starting over in Korea as we speak.


Please Don’t Let Me Go
Sticking with the larger topic of redundancy, it pains me to say once again that with so few releases to appreciate her talents, having yet another Kitty Stevenson record miss its mark through no fault of her own seems almost cruel, for she once again is by far the best aspect of this record.

The problem is that unlike on some past efforts where she was able to drag the band along with her enough to make the record worth recommending, even if mostly to hear her sing, with Make It Good the tide finally turns against her as the band simply has her out-numbered.

Even so, with one lone woman fighting off four outdated horns (and three other musicians who refuse to step in and defend her musical honor), she holds her own for awhile before ultimately succumbing.

The final decision might not be in her favor, but you gotta admire her efforts to slug it out against such overwhelming odds just the same and she earns an extra point for that kind of determination alone.


(Visit the Artist pages of Kitty Stevenson as well as Todd Rhodes for the complete archives of their respective records reviewed to date)