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OKEH 6916; AUGUST 1952



One of the most disappointing things any music fan has to deal with is an artist who doesn’t offer any surprises.

It doesn’t even matter much how good their best work was at first or how much you enjoyed it, because when you merely get variations on a theme then eventually you start to lose interest. The law of diminishing returns and all that.

By now Larry Darnell has become so predictable with the stylistic redundency of his releases that it’s robbed us of our natural curiosity to see what he’s come up with each time out which risks making him completely irrelevant unless he turns it around soon.

To the rescue comes Rudolph Toombs, one of rock’s best songwriters-for-hire to see if he can’t help give Darnell a new image and in the process a new lease on life.


It Takes Twelve Hours For The Sun To Set
Good singers – of which Larry Darnell certainly qualifies – rarely will be so bad, no matter how poor the material, that we question why any record label would keep issuing material on them. But when that material is so lacking in creative merit then no singer, no matter how good, can rescue it.

Surround that singer with conservative arrangements more concerned with not offending the masses than exciting a smaller fanbase and you inevitably have an artist lost in the wilderness. Nothing Larry Darnell has done over the past few years will make him a liability to the company and result in his outright dismissal by the music industry, but similarly nothing he’s come out with during that time will revive his fortunes and make him a real asset to OKeh Records going forward.

His best release recently, Better Be On My Way came from the pen of Rudy Toombs, who despite being one of the most commercially reliable writers of recent vintage penning huge hits for Atlantic’s stars Ruth Brown and The Clovers, not to mention Amos Milburn on Aladdin and others, didn’t get Darnell any boost in sales.

But that’s not Toombs’ fault as much as it is OKeh Records, who’ve squandered Darnell’s reputation by releasing a succession of boring predictable singles with no variety and so by the time they DID come out with something different the audience had evaporated.

That’s obviously still going to be the case with No Time At All as well, after all one or two songs in different style can’t erase an image set in stone that’s been created over the past three whole years, so the label shouldn’t get their hopes up and think this is going to rocket it up the charts.

But if they simply have the patience to let something like this draw in a few more ears who are impressed by the change of pace – literally and figuratively – then each time out the returns should be a little more promising provided they continue down this same path.

Chances are they’ll do no such thing of course, record companies base all of their decisions on sales and nothing else, and when this fizzles out they’ll deem the entire experiment a failure and go back to slowly choking the life out Darnell’s career with each and every unimaginative record they can muster.

Don’t Have To Search No More
The loping gait of the horns and drums that open this record tells you right away that this is not your typical Larry Darnell approach.

He’s actually singing with rhythmic undercurrent that doesn’t require a microscope to locate and his voice, still as warmly supple as ever, takes on a more vibrant quality to it as a result.

The band may not be looking to really stand out here, but they’re playing their parts effectively, giving us the requisite churning horns, colorful but discreet piano fills, even some surprising drum kicks thrown in for good measure. The sax solo isn’t going to knock you off your feet, but you certainly aren’t about to turn away in disinterest and the guitar solo which follows, though a little more leisurely than we’d recommend maybe, has both good tone and distinctive licks giving the instrumental track a very aesthetically pleasing personality.

Since Darnell’s voice fits well with the sonic textures the band lays down and he’s clearly comfortable singing at this slightly faster tempo, taking advantage of it by using a series of pauses and rhythmic variances to keep things interesting, there’s no reason why this record shouldn’t be at least capable of connecting with audiences and inching into the charts… is there?

Well… that’s what I wanted to talk to you about actually.

Remember when I said that OKeh Records and Larry Darnell were fortunate to have Rudy Toombs giving them a song? Well, it turns out that No Time At All must’ve come from his trash can after every other more credible act he’s been associated with over the past two years turned it down, because lyrically this is sort of a hack job.

The story to it – such as it is – might be alright… though is hardly anything special either. Darnell is pursuing a girl from a position of strength. He may not have scored with this chick before, but he’s clearly confident she’ll want him as soon as he makes his interest in her know, presumably because he’s got something of a reputation as a ladies man in the bedroom.

Unfortunately Toombs seems like he’s merely throwing together random lines and has forgotten one of the most basic of all songwriting techniques, the need to establish and maintain a rhyme scheme in the verses.

Everything appears to go unresolved simply because Toombs ends the lines in a way that doesn’t bring the idea full circle with something easily remembered. This causes you to lose track of the premise and feel that Darnell is letting us down by not giving us the payoff we anticipated even though it’s not HIS fault at all. It even manages to undercut the sexual suggestiveness of what Toombs DID give us, such as the overt reference to a female orgasm early on and the entire story becomes clunky as a result and a record that should go down easy becomes a lot harder to swallow.


Just Had To Make The Call
Constructing a record is such a tenuous art and once again we see how if just one component is off, the entire thing can fall apart.

Larry Darnell, the focus of most people’s interest here, performs his job well enough to be commended. We’d LIKE to hear more of this type of delivery out of him. Though this is hardly an umtempo song, it does have a brisker pace that we don’t get enough of from him, so the last thing we want to do is not be enthusiastic when he finally serves a song up in this fashion.

Furthermore there’s nothing stylistically weak or compromised in the arrangement in an effort to soft-peddle the message and try and pacify a more mature mainstream audience. If we relish criticizing these same figures when they pull up short in these areas on other records, then we have to be fair and give them credit when they live up to our expectations here, even if they don’t do too much to exceed them.

Finally we have Rudolph Toombs, who becomes the focal point of this review, as on one hand he gives us in No Time At All a song whose overall construction is something that Larry Darnell was in desperate need of… a faster rhythmic vehicle that lets him show off the qualities that for too long had been suppressed in the majority of his output.

But on the other hand Toombs falls noticeably short in the most basic of ways because the lyrics, which usually are his strong point, are so weak. Instead of having an aesthetically pleasing building we want to explore, we have one that looks cheap from the outside no matter how solid the foundation is underneath.

It’s still better than a lot of what we’ve gotten from Darnell, simply because it offers up a different package, but it’s nowhere near as good as it should be which is starting to become the dominant theme of his career.

“What might’ve been”.


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