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MODERN 20-801; FEBRUARY 1951

 
 

 

There’s a tagline when it comes to selling food that is so widely used that it could never be trademarked which goes… “We use only the finest ingredients”.

This reassuring bit of salesmanship implies that the product itself will be good because each thing that went into it is of the highest quality.

But that assumes that the ingredients are measured properly and everything in the recipe is compatible – the best cut of meat blended with melted chocolate, a cup of chili powder and freshly squeezed lemons might not taste too good even if they’re all top of the line products.

Here’s a record that has two singers with an abundance of vocal charisma and who are backed by one of the best group of studio musicians in the country and though the individual components still are very appetizing on their own, when served together they never quite taste right going down.
 

 

I Didn’t Know What To Say
Records are more than just the sum of their parts. You need to have an arrangement that allows all of those parts to be heard in the best possible setting.

There’s no shortage of good ideas and stellar performances on this record but there’s hardly time to enjoy any of it because something else equally intriguing elbows it out of the way before you can get acclimated to the previous sounds. Instead of building upon one another however, they almost tend to cancel each other out.

As expected Littlefield is the first voice we hear on I’ve Been Lost, self-critical about… something… we’re not really sure because he delivers just two lines, half of a usual stanza, before Wiggins comes in sounding even better… certainly more direct about her feelings.

It seems she has eyes for Willie who is walking by her house but she’s too shy to say anything. The spoken and seemingly ad-libbed “baby” she tosses in when recounting this is alluring as can be and you expect this to settle into a more predictable story where each is feeling the same about the other and eventually they connect in the song and live happily ever after.

Essentially that’s what happens… I think. They wind up singing together about love anyway and seem blissfully happy to be doing so but I’ll be damned if I know how they ever got to that point because we get absolutely no details about any of it. They skipped most of Act One and all of Act Two in their haste to get to the third act and we’re left scratching our collective heads.

In fact Littlefield seems as bewildered about this predicament as we are. He goes from wandering around aimlessly down her block, apparently with no awareness she even existed, and somehow she must’ve conked him over the head when he walked by and now they’re together.

But it’s not just the abruptness of their courtship that’s the most distressing part, it’s the way this is laid out which undercuts the very thing they’re trying to show.
 

Lost In A Deep Trance
If you’re going to have a male-female duet with two intertwining perspectives being offered you can’t switch back and forth between them so rapidly, they each need more time to state their case. Most of classic male/female duets in rock trade off after full stanzas, not a line or two which not only allows the story to progress in more well-rounded fashion but also allows you to get a handle on each singer’s vocal qualities better.

They need more separation of their parts to stand out in other words but I’ve Been Lost never gives them that chance. Willie’s sleepy tones are immediately swapped out for Laura’s shrill yearning before she hands it back to him, then he barely gets a chance to gather his thoughts before he gives it right back to her. Just as you start re-adjust your thinking to deal with this vocal tennis match that’s when they start singing in tandem which only makes matters worse.

You know what they’re trying to do with this, establish a back and forth dynamic, but their voices aren’t compatible for it. He’s too laid back and so he comes across as almost disinterested while her more pleasing tone seems too pushy and insistent by comparison. The structure does neither one of them any favors.
 


 

Watching You Go By
Musically they fare somewhat better, as Littlefield’s piano intro is a little florid but once Maxwell Davis’s sax comes in it takes on a much more mellow vibe which is always soothing on your ears.

He gets a lot of soulfulness in his interjections and while the drummer’s pace never deviates from the slow steady pattern it starts with, he’s playing with some snap that gives I’ve Been Lost a little extra vitality, but even so it’s definitely a restrained production all things considered.

Even the guitar that joins in does so only intermittently, leaving you to think you heard it somewhere along the line more prominently, but you’re not quite sure where because it never gets a moment to shine on its own.

In fact there’s no solos for any of them. No piano workout for Littlefield, no extended sax break for Davis and nothing for the guitar either though at times each one seems to be hinting that something more might be forthcoming. Instead they stick entirely to supporting roles behind the vocals which are tasked with carrying the entire load for the song.

As with almost any Maxwell Davis production the individual parts are all exquisitely played and effective in an understated way, but as with the vocals it leaves more of a vague impression of what you heard rather than making a definitive statement.
 

Trying To Find My Way
As creative failures go this is still nice enough to keep hitting repeat, hoping that your initial impressions of its shortcomings will change in time.

That might in fact happen to a degree but never quite enough to strongly recommend I’ve Been Lost, which seems to take its title a little too much to heart because they DO seem lost in how to best present these two.

Here they had a good thematic concept but didn’t explore it well enough lyrically to make you care about their fates. They had a good melodic base from which to work but didn’t expand it beyond that with more instrumental showcases. They had two singers who can be captivating but didn’t let either one have the floor to themselves long enough to get you hooked.

But apparently listeners at the time disagreed, because this was another big hit, going Top Three in the regional charts of Cash Box all across the South – Atlanta, Houston, Dallas – a steady interest in half the country which allowed it to crack the Billboard Juke Box listings for a week as well.

It’s certainly listenable and Wiggins continues to impress enough to wish she’d get some songs of her own to sing, but in the end the record remains slightly more frustrating than it is enjoyable because you know that somewhere in here is a really great song waiting to come out.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Little Willie Littlefield for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)