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ALADDIN 3067; OCTOBER 1950

 
 

 

The second of just two sides we’ll get to review for the exotically named La Melle Prince is a tantalizing glimpse of just what we’ll be missing out on had her career taken a more typical and sensible path than it did.

The prolonged gaps in her recording career denies us the opportunity to see just how she evolved artistically which would eventually pay dividends when she emerged in the late 1960’s as a wholly legitimate country act.

Since it’s a long way to Nashville from the bluesy torch song she delivers here, we’re left to speculate on the journey she took along the way, but judging by her scant output so far, whatever route she took to get there sure as hell must’ve been interesting.
 

 

Hurry Baby
Everything about this record differs drastically from the top side and since La Melle Prince not only sang them but wrote both of them it gives us about as much insight into her creativity as we’re likely to get, at least until someone unearths anything from this time that was recorded but never released.

The romping buzz of Get High with its fast paced delivery, horns blaring, exuberant voices singing lyrics that embraced the self-indulgent release of alcohol fueled partying all run in stark contrast to what we get on THIS side.

Phone Me Blues is none of those things. Whereas that one had been ridiculously uptempo this is achingly slow. It’s despondent rather than celebratory, looking inward emotionally rather than projecting its feelings outward in a communal setting.

This should be the default approach most record labels take with their output, tailoring it to fit each artist’s specific skills, but as we’ve seen time and time again over rock’s first three years it’s more the exception than the rule. But just as much credit has to go to Maxwell Davis, her producer, sax player and all-around resident genius at Aladdin who gets a well-deserved secondary artist credit on this release, for while he didn’t write the song his fingerprints are all over its arrangement.
 

Just Because You Know I Love You
The guitar of Chuck Norris sets a dire mood before La Melle Prince even enters the picture. Maxwell Davis’s saxophone adds to the desolate ambiance of the song which conjures up a vision of Prince sitting in her room at three o’clock in the morning after another night alone, simultaneously upset over the lack of interest from her man and hurt over the fact that what she has to offer him apparently isn’t enough to make him as devoted to her as she is to him.

That’s the perspective that makes these songs so powerful when handled sensitively with a clear eye for detail. Everybody, no matter how successful in the romance department they’ve been in life, knows the feeling of uncertainty that grips you and wrings your soul dry in the days or weeks before the final outcome with a prospective partner is known. It’s a time where each exchange you have is over-analyzed for days after the fact, where each morning has you optimistic about your chances and each night can leave you feeling worse than ever if things didn’t go as you’d hoped.

Prince milks these feelings for all they’re worth on Phone Me Blues, a title that shows just how little it would take to turn her outlook around. Just one call, one sign that this guy is interested in her enough to pick up the phone to talk to her – risking rejection himself in the process – would send her through the roof.

It’s what we all want in life, a mutual attraction out in the open, and it’s also what can be so elusive when starting out on the road to a relationship as neither side wants to be the one to give the other that sign not knowing if it will be met with joy or indifference.

By the sounds of it Prince was the one who took that first step and may have even gotten some short term benefit from opening up to this guy, but now that he’s gotten what he wanted he’s choosing to continue to leave his commitment to her up in the air. Whether that means he’s playing the field or if he’s just unwilling (or unable) to put his own heart on the line yet isn’t clear… to her or to us.

Her voice aches as she sings, handling the stricter requirements of this type of song with its judicious use of pauses and a more deliberate unveiling of her emotions that shows what a natural talent she was. Her voice itself is certainly good, but her judgement in how to deploy it is what really stands out.
 

Nothing But The Blues For Me
Throughout this outpouring of fragile emotions Davis and company respond with empathy, complimenting her downcast mood without drawing attention to themselves in the process.

Subtlety is by definition something not always given proper credit for achieving in an arrangement for if it’s done well we tend not to notice how effective it is. If you lay back too much then you aren’t adding anything of value to the production, but the second you overstep your bounds to try and leave a bigger imprint it can throw the entire record off balance.

Davis’s judgement in this department is every bit as stellar as Prince’s is while singing this tale of woe. He uses that standalone spot in the intro to cast a pall over what is to follow so you’re in the right frame of mind going into her vocals, then once she’s in the spotlight he’s only adding shadings to Phone Me Blues by having a delicate piano, Norris’s gently strummed guitar and his own mournful sax get fleeting glances in the background. There’s no solos to be found even though he easily could’ve contributed a tasteful one himself that would’ve kept the weary vibe going, choosing instead to let Prince have that role with a few more insistent stanzas that reveals she’s not some pitiable waif with no experience who is simply desperate for love.

In fact these lines suggest that she is in fact a regular on the nightlife scene who’s had plenty of opportunities to be with other guys but turned them down because she’s holding out hope for the one who won’t pay her more than passing attention. Davis lets Norris handle the backing of her in these stretches, playing a more aggressive – but still discreet – response on guitar while his own saxophone remains silent until this declaration is over before adding lines of his own while she downshifts back to misery.

It might not be the track you’d first think of to highlight Maxwell Davis’s genius since it’s hardly dynamic and doesn’t provide much of a spotlight for his own playing ability, but its understated qualities reveal just how good of a producer he really was, knowing exactly what will be most effective even if it limits his chance to show off how good he and the band were as musicians.
 

Don’t Leave Me Waiting Here In Vain
This was a record – and an artist – that might’ve easily slipped past our guard here as it apparently did at the time this was released without a hint of interest in the market.

In fact other than the intriguing name La Melle Prince (something which may have more of a curiosity factor today for those seeing it and thinking of Melle Mel of The Furious Five and His Purple Majesty himself, Prince Rogers Nelson) it’s not someone who jumps out at you when scanning the discography of Aladdin Records. After all, if they didn’t even release the second single they surely cut (the standard was four songs in one session for two singles) then how good could she have been?

Only her later emergence as a country singer – and a black female country singer at that – would make her appearance here as a rock act early in her career all that noteworthy… or it would seem.

But Phone Me Blues shows that had she been afforded more of an opportunity at this stage of her development she may very well have been far more well known and highly thought of, for while this might not be breaking any new ground, she covers this terrain without a hint of uneasiness or uncertainty, laying bare her emotions and handling the technical aspects of it without flinching.

The rock industry was overwhelmingly male in 1950 and maybe that was part of the problem, if companies had a hard time envisioning commercial success in this field due to her gender it was easier to pass her by altogether and focus their attention elsewhere.

That she later broke down a much larger barrier in an even more restrictive genre shows she had it in her all along to do so no matter the obstacles. Considering how good she was (in two vastly different approaches) on her debut single it’s a pity the industry didn’t focus more on all she brought to the table rather than throwing its hands up because of the indifference of a market not quite ready for what she had to offer.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of La Melle Prince for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)