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REGAL 3260; FEBRUARY, 1950

 
 

 

If rock ‘n’ roll handed out Rookie Of The Year awards like sports each year then there’s little doubt that 1949’s winner would’ve been Larry Darnell, even though he was a late season call-up, not making his debut until the fall.

But when your only two releases both hit #1 on the charts and elicit plenty of cover versions from around the music world, and one of which introduces a new almost cinematic vocal technique which would be used over the years (sparingly maybe but memorably) by a number of big name artists then it’s hard to argue he wouldn’t be deserving of such an honor.

Naturally that meteoric success in just a short time would have everybody anxious to hear what he did next… yet in a surprise that nobody likely saw coming, what he did next wasn’t much like what he’d already done, which could be seen as either a mistake of epic proportions or a blessing in disguise for those who prefer artists who are not content to rest on their laurels.
 

 
That’s Got His Own…
With his breathy tenor, perfect enunciation and tendency to wring every last ounce of emotion from each line Larry Darnell was more often destined to be the one wronged in a song rather than the one kicking somebody to curb in an act of spite or disgust.

His earlier hits capitalized on these traits with two melodramatic ballads – For You My Love and the two-part showstopper I’ll Get Along Somehow – that established his musical persona right out of the gate in no uncertain terms. Record companies being the conservative businesses they are (in spite of their image as a largely artistic enterprise) you could envision Darnell being repeatedly asked to offer up more of the same.

In a way they did just that with the other side of this release, a striking rendition of Billie Holiday’s immortal God Bless The Child which was undergoing a widespread revival in the winter of 1950 but hardly seemed like the best bet for advancing Darnell’s already soaring career. How, after all, could one improve on Holiday’s emotional reading of what arguably is in the running for the greatest record of the 20th Century?

Darnell though, imbued with confidence from his initial success and certainly no stranger to torch songs in general, tackled it with a surprising amount of self-assurance, cradling the melody with remarkable tenderness that makes it captivating to hear… but not for rock ‘n’ roll of course.

So maybe to assure the listeners who’d vaulted him to the top in such short order this past fall that he wasn’t leaving them behind for loftier pursuits, he focuses squarely on their needs with this side of his latest release and delivers his most testosterone laden recording to date in Pack Your Rags And Go, an unapologetic kiss off that is completely at odds with the message imparted on the other side… and is all the more audacious because of it.
 


 
 

That’s Your Suitcase In The Corner
That brash defiance of convention however is exactly the type of attitude he needs to project to confirm his standing as a rock act first and foremost rather than a pop or jazz leaning artist who just happened to inadvertently connect with rockers seeking young dynamic stars of their own at this stage of the game. So as to leave no doubt that rock ‘n’ roll was in fact his prime vocation, Darnell offers up a fierce one-sided harangue where he spends two and a half minutes belittling the partner he’s been living with for who knows how long.

He or she (as it’s left to the perception of the audience, perhaps unaware that Darnell himself was gay) is given no chance for rebuttal, nor are they even an active participant in the song’s story. From what we’ve been told the deed is done, the break-up has been announced and the door has been flung open by Darnell who is now imperiously demanding they gather their meager belongings and hit the road with all due haste.

But despite its forceful title Pack Your Rags And Go is not quite an angry tirade where he’s almost out of control, something which might tap into the masculine insecurities of a good-many listeners but which would also reveal that he’s far more affected by the split than his words alone would indicate.

No, Larry is more ruthless than that here, he’s showing absolutely no sign of remorse or pity, choosing instead to maintain a firm grip on his own emotions. He could be stifling the rage for show or he might be a cold heartless son of a bitch who has no capacity for forgiveness if he feels he’s been done wrong, but in spite of not getting the other side of the story to rebut his charges we can’t help but get the idea that he’s at least partially to blame.

We don’t know the specific reasons for their breakup, only the usual vague generalities – which include leeching off his income, preening about and seeing someone else – and if that’s indeed the case then Larry is indeed justified in casting them out into the cold. But the clear-eyed attitude with which he does so indicates that he’s simply more calculating in his actions than his partner is and thus is using THAT tactic to cut them to the bone.
 

Like A Hole In The Head
His voice of course is his greatest weapon, both in the story itself but also as a singer who can convey all sorts of underlying meaning with how he shades a line. Sometimes he lowers his voice just when you think he’s going to raise it, almost scoffing as he sings that his ex has worn out their welcome, making the accusation sting all the more.

Yet at other times he lets his voice swell with understated power, reinforcing his determination to end this while at the same time allowing the put down to leave a bruise on their psyche because of how effectively he sneers while delivering it.

Even the title itself substitutes the word “rags” for the more expected “pack your bags”, which gives it more of an insulting quality in addition to the harsh ultimatum itself. When analyzing it from a psychological perspective it comes across as downright sinister, like he wasn’t content with his ex being homeless, he also wanted to make sure they were cursing him under their breath as they passed into unconsciousness from exposure while trying to use their anger to steel themselves against the bitter winds that cut through their flesh each night on the streets.

It’s pretty efficient from a technical perspective as well, for although these more rhythmic offerings are not what you’d usually refer to when calling a singer a “stylist”, Pack Your Rags And Go might actually confirm that label for him even better than the typical ballads that are the normal measuring stick for such a term. Here he’s got nothing more than pretty generic charges to level, yet he makes each one count by how he twists the knife in such close quarters. It’s really a lesson in immersing yourself in the role you’re playing until you take on those characteristics in a way that seems organic.
 

Your After Hours Man
As for the musical side of the equation… well, this is where things go a bit awry… not enough to sink it by any means, but Paul Gayten’s arrangement isn’t accentuating the song’s greatest strengths either.

In the past Gayten had used somewhat atypical sounds to frame Darnell’s vocal flamboyance but with a more aggressive song he was going to have to find a different approach which can be a tough needle to thread.

He makes a fairly commendable effort however by opening Pack Your Rags And Go with a full arsenal of horns – ranging from baritone sax to trumpet – to startle you into listening closely if nothing else, then once Darnell enters the picture Gayten keeps things moving behind him, letting the horns overlap with different lines while trying to keep them from piling up on one another.

But because Frank Campbell is pulling double duty on alto and baritone he has no choice but to neglect one or the other during much of the extended instrumental break, and since it’s the alto that gets the call this part lacks a clearly defined bottom which would pack a greater punch. When Campbell finally drops the alto and picks up the baritone for some crude honks the power the music requires to match the aggressive lyrics is delivered… if only briefly.

Yet in spite of sometimes exhibiting a rousing attitude the arrangement is in need of a greater variety of sounds to shift your focus. Jack Scott’s guitar is relatively muted, Gayten’s own piano is merely laying down simple parts and only intermittently moving to the front before slipping back behind the others. George Pryor’s bass is solid throughout but the drums of Robert Green, while crisply played, are never given the chance to snap you to attention leaving the song to be rescued by Darnell’s powerful vocal range and utter conviction.

That he pulls it off as well as he does here speaks to how good of an artist Larry Darnell was, even at this young of an age.
 


 

Your Ticket’s On The Dresser
It’s always hard to follow-up a runaway hit, let alone two runaway hits done in such unique style as Darnell had featured, but you gotta hand it to Regal Records for being smart enough or stupid enough not to try and replicate them the next time out, but rather to let him show off other sides to his musical persona.

This might share a certain vitality with For You My Love but in terms of the perspective offered it is the complete opposite, thus ensuring a much different response from the audience who had embraced that earlier song so wholeheartedly.

In fact if you wanted to be completely cynical you could even suggest that Pack Your Rags And Go was a sequel to that record, the much darker aftermath to him pledging his love and devotion to someone who turned out not to be worth it, though it’d be hard to envision someone so earnest about being head over heels in love as he was the last time out turning into a fish-eyed purveyor of scorn and distrust.

But then again since it was the same singer pulling off each role as if it was a second skin that meant he had it in him to understand both mindsets which had to make you wonder what persona he’d come up with the next time around.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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