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MACY’S 5015; JANUARY 1951

 
 

 

Some artists, no matter how hard they try, are bound to be underrated and overlooked.

Each time they come along and seem to surprise you with something that’s better than you anticipated, it stands to reason that should be enough to get you to readjust your expectations for them going forward, yet they soon fall back in your estimation and have to fight all that much harder to win you over again.

In many ways they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, for when they release something that is a little lacking it only seems to confirm their status as a nondescript also-ran, yet when something else succeeds artistically it’s seen as a random fluke of some kind. How can they ever win when that’s the prevailing wisdom regarding their career.

Well, how about by changing that perception for starters, something that admittedly is overdue when it comes to Lester Williams.
 

 

A Natural Fact
Maybe it’s his pinched nasal tone that throws you off. It’s a not a commanding voice to be sure and as a result it makes what he’s saying seem more tentative and unsure of itself than the sentiments themselves would merit.

Then there’s the fact that Williams vacillates between genres, cutting blues tracks alongside rock songs and to be frank about it, his rock output still has vestiges of blues in them at times and his blues cuts, like the flip side of this – a pretty decent track in its own right called The Folks Around The Corner – could probably be slipped into his rock catalog without too much protest.

But music fans tend to want the full allegiance of their artists and so instead of being warmly embraced by both sides, each of whom should be grateful for the attention he pays to their respective constituencies, they begin to view him suspiciously, worried that he’ll choose their rival over them in the long run. Therefore before he can turn his back on them, they collectively turn their backs on him instead.

That’ll teach ya, Lester!

We’re guilty of that here too I’m sad to say, for while even when we’ve praised some of his work there’s always a “but” thrown in somewhere to make it conditional. Unfair of course, yet all too common when you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t quite go far enough to leave absolutely no doubt they’re making these records to satisfy your stylistic perspective.

That’s our shortcomings at play though, not his and while he shouldn’t need to change his approach any to suit us, on Hey Jack he seems to do just that, focusing on hitting all of the requirements for rock ‘n’ roll from the rolling tempo and exuberant vocals to the party atmosphere and the honking saxes.

He’s the same artist with the same vocal limitations, but those limitations don’t define him this around and if he’s still not destined for stardom he’s at least doing more than enough to not be forgotten.
 


 
 

Goodness Knows
Though this is not the best record of Williams we’ve covered – that would be his first, I’m So Happy I Could Jump And Shout – this one does have a streamlined concept that suits him well, choosing to celebrate his girl in a public manner and letting his own enthusiasm, as well as the band’s energy, convey the message beyond the bare bones lyrics.

As an expression of joy this record is really effective. You don’t for a second doubt the veracity of his emotions for this woman even if we don’t get any insight as to what makes her so special… maybe he’s keeping the details to himself so as to ward off any competition.

But this is more about how energizing those feelings he has for her are for his state of mind and from the opening cry of Hey Jack as he describes to his buddy how head over heels he is, the vibe never wavers.

With horns riffing while the very prominent bass is locking down the rhythm alongside the piano there’s a contagious enthusiasm to the record that they ride throughout. Williams comes across as so giddy that he can’t formulate coherent thoughts on the subject. He’s the guy with the sloppy grin on his face after some girl sent word through a friend that she liked him. But while he might not be able to hold a conversation beyond a few “aww shucks” comments, his spirit is soaring.

So too are the horns, but in this case it might’ve been better to weigh them down with some heavier sounds. Their attitude is spot on but their tones are a little high as Johnny Spencer takes the first solo after being called out by Williams and though he’s wielding a tenor it sounds more like an alto as he stays in the higher end of the instrument’s range.

When Williams cries out for Blankley Broadis to take over however you’re surprised to find that he’s the one on alto even though his playing is somehow fuller sounding than the tenor had been.

Both of them are suitably high strung in their approach, missing notes at times but barreling ahead without pause. Throughout all this Williams is whooping it up behind them which makes you think that coming out of the break they might try escalating things even more to send this over the edge.

Instead after a boisterous revival of the chorus Williams suddenly tones it down completely almost as if he was afraid of waking people up after getting too carried away. He eases back so much in fact that it catches you completely off guard, switching to a light airy voice emanating from his throat rather than his chest, almost whispering the lines which works wonderfully.

That decision gives this an entirely different feel, not only from the rest of the song but the rest of what rock was doing at the time. That dichotomy pulls you in and wins you over without exerting any pressure at all.
 


 

Not Ashamed Of That
Could we still find fault with some of their technical deficiencies if we wanted to?

Of course. A deeper, throatier voice singing these same lines in the same manner would shred the speakers rather than tickling your earbuds… a raunchier sax would convey the same general attitude but with a more explosive payoff… and there’s also the lingering question of just where Williams’ guitar is in all of this, a notable absence in the sonic palette.

But Williams deserves credit for what Hey Jack accomplishes rather than criticism for how it could be improved further. He’s never going to have the voice of Wynonie Harris and it was doubtful he’d get Maxwell Davis to fly in and add his horn to his sessions, but the things that Williams does have control over work just fine here.

It’s a song that seeks to and succeeds in capturing a very specific universal feeling. In doing so the feeling it leaves you with is one of contentment.

In the final analysis if this is all Lester Williams ever winds up being it’s still good enough.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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