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REGAL 3274; JUNE 1950




When it comes to records, is that a compliment, an insult, both or neither?

When it comes to artists, does being interesting mean more than being consistently marketable or does it mean less?

In Larry Darnell’s case, at least to this point of his career, being interesting has become what listeners have come to expect.


So Good To Me
Though listening to his catalog to date, primarily a succession of ballads and mid-tempo songs, it’d be easy to claim that he was sticking largely to what he did best and therefore you might get an argument from some casual observers when we try claiming he was somehow more interesting than his peers when it came to his output.

But while the breathy dramatic vocals he did so well might be more or less the same in theory, the songs in which those vocals were housed were not only vastly different from one another, but also a few steps away from the mainstream rock output of virtually anybody else on the scene.

His debut, the two part I’ll Get Along Somehow with its mid-song recitation was almost cinematic in its construction and presentation, completely unique in the pantheon of the music. Along the way he’d done the kind of torch songs more associated with female jazz acts and then turned around and issued scolding breakup songs where he’d thrown out his woman without so much as a second thought.

The music behind him on these records had often been just as eclectic as the themes, squawking trumpets rather than lusty tenor saxes and some skelatal melodramatic arrangements rather than barreling roadhouse stomps.

Yet because that voice was so distinctive it all seemed related, even as the perspectives swung wildly between extremes and the musical framework was built up, torn down and reconstructed.

On I Love My Baby we get “another” heartfelt ode to a nameless woman but unlike his biggest hit with a similar concept, For You My Love, which was pretty straightforward in its presentation, this one puts the emphasis on being dramatically different, calling attention to its unique arrangement at every turn, thereby ensuring that the word that will spring to mind when hearing it is “interesting”.

Lets Me Have My Way
This is another song written by Regal’s new creative coordinator, Howard Biggs, but unlike a few other attempts where the results were hit and miss, this one is largely a hit… literally too, as it made #4 on the national charts, Darnell’s fourth Top Ten hit in less than ten months.

This is hardly a coincidence, for Biggs has taken what Darnell does so well and combined it with something to naturally highlight those swelling vocals by alternating them with what can only be called a “prancing” horn pattern, the two elements playing off one another brilliantly, his singing raising the tension before the horns release it with a smirk.

That technique also distances I Love My Baby from the rest of his records, giving it an easily remembered hook that will last far longer than the particulars of the lyrics.

If anything the lyrics are something of a let-down, or at least not an aspect worth much attention on their own. They lay out the basic theme in exceedingly broad terms, eschewing details in favor of simplistic generalities – she treats him well, she’s sweet and gentle, isn’t demanding – all good qualities for sure, but they hardly paint a three dimensional picture of this girl.

But Darnell sells it to us as if it’s the most detailed description ever put to wax, clearly envisioning each and every aspect of her looks, charm and personality with vivid clarity in his mind’s eye and that’s what makes this come alive.

His voice pulls out all of the tricks to get this across from the slow build-up to heighten the anticipation to the soaring payoffs to let you have some notion of his sincerity if nothing else. As always his judgement and his technical prowess is remarkable making trite greeting card sentiments seem like Shakespearean sonnets.

He’s not alone however, for we get a ghostly chorus replying to his claims, half-taunting it seems, even though they’re ostensibly supporting his general premise. It’s the kind of thing that can come across as contrived and hokey but here it’s done with a light touch and adds greatly to the ambiance if not the plot.


Worth Their Weight In Gold
A good voice singing a bland song might be pleasant enough to listen to but in terms of assessing its overall quality would probably wind up being something of a wash and so you need to have the music behind them raise the stakes to make the record come out on the positive side of the ledger.

The discussion starts and ends with the horns, for you can’t ignore them, downplay them, or criticize them for that matter. For all intent and purpose they ARE the arrangement and a really inventive one at that.

The decision to contrast their lines so pointedly with the alternately moaning and soaring vocals of Darnell is inspired. You can read them one of two ways, each of which work although their interpretations are polar opposites.

Theory number one is they are gently mocking him. The more earnest he is in his declarations of love, the more they razz him with self-serving delight. He may not even realize they’re having a laugh at his expense, that is if he can stop dreaming about his girlfriend long enough to notice them, but even if he catches on he’ll only think they’re kidding him because surely they must see how great this girl is too and be envious about his good fortune.

The other possibility is that they’re actually bolstering his rather vague and esoteric argument that this girl is something special, adding a rousing coda to each line to hammer home the authenticity of the gushing feelings he’s spilling every time he opens his mouth. Just like Darnell’s vocals which go up and down with passionate fervor, so too do the horns rise and fall with unerring precision.

The thing is it really doesn’t matter which of those is true, for the sonic effect on I Love My Baby remains unchanged even if the underlying message the horns impart is radically different from one another in those descriptions.

Paul Gayten’s piano tosses in treble runs to add a little color, but for the most part everything else from the bass to the drums are merely window dressing to the horns. If you want to dock it at all then it’s the stray trumpet that gets a wandering quasi-solo, although even that morphs into a fairly good vamping riff before Darnell takes us back to normal back and forth exchange to close it out.

My Head Goes ‘Round And ‘Round
As clever as the arrangement is and as effective each of the participants is in carrying out their duties, the song itself is still a little more smoke and mirrors than anything deep and meaningful. To use a stage analogy, the acting is compelling, the direction is first rate and the scenery is eye-catching but the script is fairly thin.

Does that matter? No, probably not in this case. In the end there’s plenty here to compliment… I Love My Baby is a fun song to listen to, it doesn’t get old very fast as some records that have certain contrivances baked in tend to do, and Darnell’s conviction in what he’s singing makes up for any quibbles with his standards when it comes to women.

But more than anything this is an interesting record and in the big scheme of things that makes it one to admire.


(Visit the Artist page of Larry Darnell for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)