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OKEH 6902; AUGUST 1952



Open ended questions are something to strenuously avoid in life.

Though you may think you’re asking for clarification on a troubling issue, by not making it specific enough you’re bound to receive far more trouble than you bargained for if the person chooses to answer honestly.

When that person is a female in whom you have some romantic interest – past or present – you may just as well be sentencing yourself to a lifetime of purgatory for raising the question in the first place.

Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and quietly wonder what she’s thinking rather than taking the chance at finding out.


Is It Me Or Is It Someone Else?
By now we probably should stop merely complimenting Larry Darnell and OKeh Records for giving him new musical vistas to fix his gaze on rather than have him endlessly try and recapture that initial hit formal he’d scored with on Regal Records.

After all, artists are SUPPOSED to grow and broaden their horizons, which means there should be nothing intrinsically special about actually doing so on record three years into one’s career.

Yet for the longest time it seemed as though Darnell would be stuck repeating himself… not so much the unique formula that gave him his most lasting hit, I’ll Get Along Somehow, featuring a dramatic mid-song recitation which thankfully Regal had sidestepped as it’d probably be seen as too desperate a move… but rather he kept singing emotionally harrowing tales in his fragile tenor that became increasingly untethered to the dominant style of rock balladry.

But Darnell always had a versatile vocal instrument, not just in terms of his singing style but also when talking about range, and on What’s On Your Mind he drops a little lower in register and tried to sound less distraught than his usual approach where he was always on the verge of breaking down.

Whether this song makes the best use of that newfound attitude is less clear, but at least he’s offering us something new to contemplate.

Don’t Hide It… Let It Show
The opening to this with its declaratory repetition of the title line is designed to showcase Larry Darnell’s melodramatic intonation.

It does that.

It also sets up a premise that the rest of the song is unable, or unwilling, to deliver on as everything that follows him moaning What’s On Your Mind falls short of such a theatrical introduction.

That’s not Darnell’s fault – he didn’t write this – but what follows is little more than a series of pretty simple questions about where he stands with an unnamed woman with whom he has some history.

That we never do find out what that history is, whether it’s an unrequited crush on Darnell’s part, or if they were once hot and heavy together, undercuts the song’s effectiveness. If that question was made clear then you could easily tweak the ensuing story to make something more worthwhile out of this.

If it were the former and Darnell only knew this girl in passing, maybe elicited a faint smile from her if they made eye contact but who otherwise avoided his attempts to get to know her, you could have Larry’s impotent frustration take center stage. That might not be so pretty to watch, not to mention may wind up taking him further back in time when he embodied that kind of guy in past songs, but at least it’d have a clear direction.

The better option would’ve been to have given them a passionate backstory, maybe intermittent hook-ups for a few weeks but now she’s not returning his calls. He knows he satisfied her but something changed and a good writer could even hold back the final revelation – my guess is her regular fella returned from an out of town job, a hitch in the service or a stint in jail and no longer needs Larry to warm her bed – until the final stanza that hits him like a punch to the gut as she passes him in the street without even acknowledging his existence.

Instead What’s On Your Mind sits somewhere in the middle, as Darnell is head over heels in love with this girl and can find no plausible reason why she’s distancing herself from him. His voice is clear and strong in a way that shows off his resonance, his deliberate pacing demonstrates a good grasp of the faint rhythm he’s given and he’s certainly invested in the emotional baggage he’s been saddled with, but without a deeper song he’s left to earn his keep on technical plaudits alone.

The band – under the direction of the perpetually unsung Leroy Kirkland – is doing all they can to help out with some nice sax works that shimmers in the background, but they’re also hamstrung by not having bigger stakes to play off of in the arrangement. Had Darnell been dealing with more than just internal confusion they might’ve ramped things up and pushed things over the edge.

Instead everybody here, singer, band and listener alike, are left with more questions than answers.

Am I A Fool Or King?
This is the perfect example of just how vital it is for everybody involved with a record to pull their weight.

Larry Darnell gives a solid performance but to no end. The band can’t be faulted for their execution even though they remain under-utilized in the big scheme of things.

Which means it falls to the songwriters who had a halfway decent idea with What’s On Your Mind but left it to us to try and answer that question rather than come to a more satisfying conclusion themselves.

Everybody learns early on in in life that you shouldn’t ask questions you don’t really want the answer to, but here we want an answer they’re not prepared to give us, which might be a greater offense.

Without it we’re left asking a rhetorical question that no record company wants to hear… Who really cares?


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