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Records are a combination of a lot of different components, all needing to work together to form a coherant and appealing whole.

If one attribute is even just slightly off the entire record can run off course and not even the talent at the center of the production can entirely salvage the results.

For the better part of 1950 most of those components on most of the records Little Esther released were spot on, but in 1951 virtually all of her records have had things wrong with them and this is no exception.


You’ve Taken My Love Away
One of the more interesting things to contemplate as of late in rock ‘n’ roll has been the dynamics of the stage show that featured Johnny Otis’s rolling caravan of acts as it criss-crossed America throughout 1951.

Otis of course was a household name in the rock community by now thanks to countless hits coming out under his own name with a number of different vocalists over the past two plus years (only one of which was him), but while he was clearly the guiding light – bandleader, songwriter and a featured instrumentalist on vibes – the act was still reliant on the singers in tow to really draw sustained interest.

Since Little Esther was the one with the most credited hits as lead singer, and since she brought such a distinctive voice to the table, it was her who was the one who shared the headlining spot in ads and on the marquee, even though she was no longer “officially” recording with Otis now that she had jumped from Savoy to Federal Records.

But as we know Otis’s band was still backing her in the studio and they had the same producer in Ralph Bass and so it should not have been difficult for them to keep up the standards they’d set with Savoy.

Instead everything was just a little bit off as in almost every case both the songs and arrangements were of slightly poorer quality and Tell Him I Need Him So is certainly no exception as their mistake is to affix the aching song with a horn chart that is years out of date.

That was a bad enough decision when they cut this back in March, but now seven months later with all of the more vibrant tracks hitting the charts in the interim this puts the record at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to drawing interest.


I Won’t Be Long
Give them credit for their cockiness, because they don’t waste a single second before unveiling those 1940’s horns, allowing them to open the track before Esther even gets a chance to open her mouth.

When she enters the picture the horns thankfully recede, but the story she offers up and the mild melody that goes with it aren’t doing much to get you to reconsider your initial resistance to Tell Him I Need Him So.

It doesn’t take much time to realize that this was a halfhearted effort by everyone involved. A case of them saying, “Oh what the hell, it’s good enough”, which is an attitude that is present on far too many subpar offerings over the years.

The main plot isn’t at issue, Esther is sad over her breakup and isn’t above admitting it or praying to whatever imaginary deities she believes in to intervene and bring this guy back to her.

But while that’s a decent enough premise she doesn’t sound all that distraught or desperate for reconciliation, instead she just sounds weary over the whole thing. Her voice itself is fine, in fact it’s even a little huskier in a breathy sort of way that is modestly appealing, but she’s not investing much of herself into the lyrics.

In a way it sounds like she’s told this story before and is being asked to repeat herself for someone who came in late, hence the lack of urgency over what she’s telling us. That’s bad enough but when it’s delivered with a melody that is politely uninteresting to boot it’s got no real power to pull you in, leaving it to that aforementioned outdated arrangement to try and win you back.

That’s not going to happen for even though the biggest offenders – the horns – are used sporadically, they’re not completely absent from the rest of the song, popping up and dragging you back in time against your wishes too often for comfort.

Only guitarist Pete Lewis who gives us some pensive licks at times manages to stem the tide of our annoyance, but it’s hardly enough as this record sinks into the bog without much of a struggle… inoffensive maybe, but ineffectual all the same.


It’s Too Late Now
Had a song this mundane come out on the back of a really solid offering there wouldn’t be much cause for concern. All you needed was one good side to make a single worthwhile and as long as the flip wasn’t atrocious nobody would likely complain if it was a little substandard.

But we’re now approaching the point with Little Esther where they can’t run the risk of releasing songs this lackluster in any configuration because audiences – and jukebox distributors – aren’t getting enough value from the top half of her singles to keep her on their playlists.

Tell Him I Need Him So isn’t so awful that you’ll turn it off before it’s over, throw the record in the trash and wash your hands entirely of Esther’s career, but it’s also not something that has you enthusiastic to hear her next release either.

There are simply too many artists now to rely on someone who has been failing to live up to expectations for the last full year… other than those times where she had The Dominoes to bring the heat for her… and so before long you probably won’t even realize you’ve forgotten about her when these records come and go from the scene without a second thought.

That’s the harsh reality of the music biz though… what have you done for me lately?

The answer is Little Esther’s case is: Not nearly enough.


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