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MACY’S 5006; JUNE 1950



Often times when someone is at a crossroads in life and doesn’t quite know which direction to turn, they are content to spin their wheels for awhile, remaining in the same spot and hoping that the road map laid out before them will become a little clearer the more they study it.

That rarely happens of course, eventually you need to just pick a street and drive down it to find out what’s around the next bend at least, but when the compass in your hand is giving no indication of which route seems most promising it’d be perfectly understandable for most to pull off the thoroughfare, find a room for the night and maybe hope the answer to your quest will come to you in a dream as you sleep.

Lester Williams, an educated musician with a family to support, found himself caught between two styles that both had some genuine commercial prospects at the time and so he put off that decision for a little longer and hedged his bets while apparently waiting for the street signs to come into clearer focus.


Everything I Say And Do
Keeping his options open might be a safe bet, in that you’re not cutting off any avenues to pursue in earnest later, but it’s also not showing much confidence in what YOU want to do, trusting that you’ll be able to pull the audience along with you through the strengths of your talent and your conviction in the music you chose.

Instead with Don’t Treat Me So Low Down he continues to vacillate between blues and rock by pairing a downcast theme with a more high class backing and presumably letting the public have the final say by which element they gravitated towards the most.

As a proper blues song this is a little too busy in its arrangement thanks to the omni-present saxophone which qualifies as a co-lead voice on the record and shifts the mood from down and out to up and at’em… or at least restless enough to be getting off the floor where so many pure blues artists reside.

Yet as a rock song this is too depressing in many ways, giving us a man who despite the modicum of hope in some of his declarations towards the woman he loves, is more or less resigned to his fate and content with his position in life and can only wish for something better because he doesn’t have the determination to fight for it anymore.

The bluesier aspects revolve around Williams’s perspective which is bordering on defeatist, crying to his baby as the song opens, begging her to treat him better, then spending the rest of his time fawning over her while she ignores him. He never makes clear her reasons for her dismissal of him but hints at some possibilities, the most damning of which would suggest she’s seeking her gratification elsewhere and isn’t even being too discreet about her activities.

But if we were to find out that she was faithful to him but just doesn’t have the time, the energy or the deeper interest in curing his self-esteem problems to give him the attention he craves it would hardly change our impressions of either one of them. Williams is presenting himself as ineffectual from the very beginning, giving us no cause to feel any sympathy for him. The woman he is singing about never becomes anything more than an apparition to the listener, as he offers up no details – good or bad – to make her come alive in our imaginations.

As a result it paints a rather bleak scene, though not quite a desperate one. There’s no threats of being tossed out of the house, no nightly battles being alluded to in the narrative, no talk of money, sex or broken promises, or really any of the usual issues at stake in these relationships that are straining at the seams. But that also means there’s no color to the scene and no real sense of the impact her indifference is causing him.

He moans about it, but we know full well he’ll be there come morning, eating his grits and drinking his coffee before shuffling out the door to get a few bucks to bring home to her as the sun sets when this nightly drama will pick up again where it left off. Both of them tired of life, but with no prospects for a better life they stick with it the best they can.

Always Have You Around
That scenario undoubtedly is more suited for the blues, but the presence of those horns ensures that this will never be fully comfortable in that style even though the way they’re being played keeps this from ever feeling at ease taking up residency in the rock kingdom either.

Yet those horns, or that one bleating alto of Conrad Johnson (and perhaps Sam Williams’s tenor alongside it) are also the main attraction to Don’t Treat Me So Low Down, not because they’re so creative or well-played, but rather because they’re so insistent on commenting on everything Lester Williams says, until frankly they wind up earning more of our attention than he does.

Just as with his singing, they’re moving at the same lurching pace which makes this far too similar in tempo to the slightly better A-side, Dowling Street Hop. Here the horns are very high in the mix, almost taunting Lester in a sense, as if they’ve heard all of this before and want him to either man-up and do something about his unfulfilling life or shut up about it.

Yet instead of always coming across as cruel sounding, they mix things up nicely as the piano plays soothing triplets behind them. The sax alternately sounds slightly sensual, weary, impatient, insistent, bored, teasing and during some of the longer breaks towards the end it even approaches energetic. It’s a good performance showing off Johnson’s versatility on his horn and never fails to be melodic, even as the rest of the song is a little skimpy in that regard.

However, the problem with it is Lester Williams’s oddly high nasal voice is too close in tone to what is coming out of that saxophone. A baritone would’ve set it off and one rapid fire tenor honking away might’ve lit a fire under the singer, or else shamed him for not matching the fervor. Instead the two seem locked in a strange macabre dance, the sax definitely leading, but never able to get Williams to shake a leg in a more entertaining way.

Try And Please You, Baby
As with the top side there’s a reasonable proficiency here which shouldn’t be dismissed altogether, as if this was some kind of a hack-job not worth the time or effort by anyone involved.

But that said Don’t Treat Me So Low Down is also not trying for much and so even if it carries out each of its duties with professionalism that’s still not going to be enough to make it more than modestly tolerable.

That’s it’s biggest flaw beyond any minor clashing of the dominant sonic elements, the fact that Lester Williams – both the character he’s portraying in the song and the artist making the record – is too content with the status quo. In both cases he may wish for something better, but he’s unwilling to break his back trying to get it.

He’s not just going through the motions exactly, but then again he’s hardly putting forth the effort to overcome the situation he finds himself in either. Though he’s capable of being a welcome presence on either one of two distinctly different music scenes he seems content to wait for someone else to forcibly push him towards one or the other and that’s no way to get ahead in life… or in music.


(Visit the Artist page of Lester Williams for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)