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FEDERAL 12023; APRIL 1951



A decidedly less mangled record than the flip side and one which has some fairly good elements mixed in, but for those looking to this as a panacea for Federal’s ongoing missteps when it comes to the career of Little Esther will still be sorely disappointed.

The problems here may be different and less drastic than we just witnessed but the same puzzling larger issue remains… all of a sudden everyone involved seems to have lost all concept of the basic rules of music and needless to say that’s hardly an easy thing to overcome when making records.


It’s Better That We Part From The Start
The first thing you tend to look for to explain a sudden downturn in popularity when an artist moves to a new label after being such a huge star at their last stop is a change in direction… which usually tended to mean trying to transform a rock act like Esther into something “classier”… pop music with a twist of jazz or elegant blues.

That may in fact be the case to a degree but it’s a minor degree at most and certainly not the primary reason why Esther’s career went off a cliff so rapidly upon her arrival at Federal Records. Besides, it’s not as if her work on Savoy wasn’t occasionally guilty of veering a little too closely to the swankier side of town and it didn’t seem to hurt her stature any even if those sides were less aesthetically pleasing than her earthier material.

Since we know that Johnny Otis’s band was still secretly backing her in the studio – in violation of their own exclusive contract with Savoy that had yet to run out – we can’t chalk the problems up to a less suitable band either, even if it’s possible that since the credit on the label was going to alto saxophonist Earle Warren they went a little too far in making his lighter horn a centerpiece of the arrangements rather than letting the tenor handle the job it was best suited for.

Maybe the most obvious factor in her falling into a creative rut might be the loss of Otis as a songwriter, though this would’ve been easy enough to get around by having him continue to write for her but simply assigning the rights to a stand-in, say his wife or his friend and manager Bardu Ali, or even Esther herself so she could get some money beyond touring income.

Yet outside contributions such as Don’t Make A Fool Out Of Me weren’t bad by any means… topically they fit the bill at least giving Esther a chance to elicit sympathy with a story about wanting a man to commit to her.

By tossing out those explanations we’re left with something far more inexplicable which is rapidly becoming apparent with each new release and that’s how these songs were fumbled so badly on the studio floor using arrangements that didn’t fit the songs, instruments clashing with one another, and in this case anyway, causes them all – band and singer alike – to lose their already tenuous grip on the melody altogether.


Don’t Ever Say That You Do
As with the other side, the introduction to this song is about the best part of the musical side of the equation as we again get a slinky Pete Lewis guitar line backed by horns which may be pitched a little too high but aren’t too bothersome in this context.

When Esther arrives though there’s no masking the fact that they’re struggling to pull this off. There’s three elements at play here, none of them supporting one another in the least. If we use Esther’s vocal as the the foundation of the record then it’s obvious the band is unsure of how to support her. Lewis’s guitar isn’t complimenting her lines at all, but rather just tossing in random fills which seem to serve no purpose other than to take up space.

The jazz rooted horns are once again too outdated in their construction and they don’t mesh at all with either Lewis or Esther, playing inconsequential parts that are the epitome of fluff, a blanket of sound with no emotional resonance to add some gravity to the song and the emotions Esther is trying to draw out.

But even were they to try and adhere more closely to what Esther is doing, she’s hardly at the top of her game here. She’s taking this slow, which may in fact be the right decision, but with the band thwarting that mood she starts to improvise and only makes it worse, extending some notes, doubling and tripling up on others, all the while getting further and further away from a coherent melodic path.

Unless a song is primarily rhythmic you need a clean, easy to follow melody for it to be memorable and Don’t Make A Fool Out Of Me doesn’t have one. Maybe it never did, but the fact that occasionally Esther stumbles across a line that has the right sequence of notes tells you that it probably DID have something worthwhile to it on paper only to see them all deviate from it needlessly.

Not only does this subvert the entire concept of what a record is supposed to do, but it detracts from the story which is the other avenue Esther has to put this over, turning the melencholy lyrics into a mystery that we never do fully grasp.

Now unlike her previous attempts on Federal, there are a few redeeming qualities here which are surprisingly located among the musicians who contribute a surprising dramatic stop time backing at one point and then later we get fairly nice sax solo that manages to have a little grit mixed in with the urgency of the lines and seem to momentarily get this record back on track a little. But then as it goes on it too loses the thread it was pulling and when Esther returns, her voice ramping up for some reason, we’ve given up pretending to care.

Even when she closes it out with her best vocal line of the day it’s best appreciated by the fact it signals the record is over and we can move on to something else.


If Our Love’s Not To Be
Though it’s been said here countless times before, Little Esther was an unusual star in that she didn’t have the normal skill set that one equates with popular singers. Her voice was thin and reedy, she had far less vocal presence than most big time acts and she featured a quirky delivery that was still somehow devoid of a signature trait.

You could always tell it was her, but there was nothing compelling about the voice itself.

Where she excelled was in how well she could act out the parts, her native intelligence shining through whenever she had a good story with lots of conflicting emotions to delve into.

But that talent requires sympathetic accompaniment, something she had in abundance while at Savoy, yet now on Federal, despite having the same people backing her, it seemed to vanish all at once.

Don’t Make A Fool Out Of Me creates a vague impression of a song rather than offering up solid song on its own thanks to their reading of it. There seems to be no firm guiding hand directing it, no sense of self-assurance in any of their parts and as soon as each of the main performers makes their own decision on which way to take it, that immediately throws off the others who’ve gone in a different direction.

It’s not completely off-putting to listen to maybe but nothing about it catches your ear. It’s album filler for a double LP, not one half of a single when trying to show a year’s worth of constant success wasn’t a fluke.

The more she keeps releasing sides like this however, the more weight that fluke charge will start to carry.


(Visit the Artist page of Little Esther for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)