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FREEDOM 1507; MAY 1949



It’s always a welcome revelation when an otherwise obscure historical name seemingly pops up out of the nowhere and pulls off a great record, such as was found on the top side of this release where pianist Lonnie Lyons stepped out in front of the loose knit studio band he was a part of and – with ample help from his highly skilled cohorts – delivered a blistering distillation of all of rock’s edgy excitement.

It’s the type of unexpected delight that makes the archaeological crate digging through rock ‘n’ roll’s cobweb strewn attics well worth the time and trouble.

But now that Lyons has made a name for himself, at least to us if not the world at large who still would raise a collective shrug at mention of his name, he’s going to start coming with some expectations from now on. We might not really think he’s going to consistently match his audacious initial effort that grabbed our attention so completely that time out, but after all if you’re here on a site like this to begin with, spending your time reading all of these treatises to long lost scratchy slices of the past it stands to reason that you’d at least be curious to see how close he might come to living up to his potential from here on in.

Bring Your Mighty Love To Me
Chances are he won’t of course. Although let’s face it that’s hardly going out on a limb to say. After all if his name vanished from memory before his records even stopped spinning way back then, what chance is there that more than just that one lightning in a bottle side will be found amongst his meager output? Maybe even the nature of stumbling over a record by a complete unknown without any reason to think it’ll be more than adequate is why we (or just me) found Flychick Bounce so interesting in the first place.

If that’s the case then low expectations – or NO expectations as it were – helped him immeasurably and now, with decidedly higher anticipation awaiting its flip side we’re bound to be let down.

Since Far Away Blues relies much less on instrumental prowess than its celebrated A-side and happens to be a ballad which requires more insight and sensitivity from its vocalist, the chances Lyons will step up and deliver something noteworthy in that regard probably falls somewhere along the lines of him growing wings and flying over the bandstand as he sings it like a canary.

In other words, no matter how much faith you have in underdogs everywhere, don’t get carried away and start placing obscenely large wagers on a succession of lame horses, over the hill fighters, basketball teams tanking for a better shot at a high draft pick and drawing to an inside straight.

Or betting that Lonnie Lyons will somehow beat the odds and surprise us again.

I Wanna See My Baby
Unlike his beguiling passages on the flip side, Conrad Johnson’s alto sax starts this off on uneasy footing, its tone sounding a little too sterile to stir up any passions – both in us and in Lyons when he comes in.

Though both settle down quickly enough, Johnson easing into a lower register and Lyons giving it his best half-cocked Amos Milburn impersonation, it becomes obvious that they are faced with an uphill struggle in their quest to even battle Far Away Blues to a draw.

It’s not that he’s coming off at all like he’s whining incessantly, or was somehow deserving of his fate, but rather he’s not engendering any sympathy for his plight because unlike Amos who can make you feel every bit as despondent as he does with the wave of a hand, with Lyons you are most assuredly remaining a neutral observer to his misery.

On one hand you DO feel sorry for him a little as he bemoans how he’s searched for his girl every night and day to no avail, even as you wonder what he might’ve done that led to this break up, but on the other hand you’re thinking of whether that halfway decent girl you saw him at the bar with last week is the one who slipped away and whether or not you can come up with a plausible excuse to leave the table so you can head out on the town to track her down for yourself.

Now there are times in this when he channels some of Milburn’s vocal attributes with modest success. A word here, maybe a whole line there, and if you’ve had a few too many cocktails and aren’t really paying close attention to his tale of woe you may convince yourself that Amos wandered into the bar and is sitting two seats down crying over his own doomed affair. But there’s two problems with that scenario.

The first of course is it’s NOT Amos Milburn and so not only does that impression quickly fade when Lyons can’t maintain the illusion on the next line, but in the process it also has you wishing you WERE listening to Milburn spill his guts out to you again and so you’re a risk to wander off with a nickel in your hand in search of a jukebox that is carrying the latest Amos Milburn record to spin instead.

So Far Away
Lyons does his best in spite of the odds stacked against him. He doesn’t falter in his effort any and he’s at least reasonably convincing in his misery. The lyrics hardly give him enough weapons to work with however, further hampering his chances, as their generic sentiments sound as if they’ve either been cribbed from other songs or all of the men in rock’s early days somehow hooked up with the same woman who treated each of them with vindictive cruelty before leaving them all stranded with broken hearts, empty pockets and three types of incurable venereal diseases.

The real problem though – and the real surprise for that matter – is the tepid support he receives from his bandmates. These are, after all, the same crew that astounded us in the past but maybe it’s just that they were more suited for the type of high octane rocking they were called on to do in those instances than slowing things down as they’re asked to do on Faraway Blues.

They aren’t exactly incapable of playing this type of music well, there’s certainly moments where they sound very solid in what they deliver. No, I think the problem comes with them not working out a better game plan with which to start, leaving too much of the responsibility with the horns who struggle to find a compatible tone with Lyons vocals and are content to merely embellish the somber mood with standalone passages rather than trying to tie it all together with a more unified arrangement.

Lyons is the best musician on this track, or at least is playing the best in relation to his own work as a singer. It’s not even that he’s matching the mood, he’s not but at least he’s the liveliest thing on it, his piano fills sounding spry and restless against the more subdued accompaniment of the others, but it’s that contrast which works well and makes you want to hear more of it from the rest of these guys as well.

Instead we get playing that is modest and unassertive save for one brief flourish on drums towards the end. Throughout it the horns keep their heads bowed as if at a graveside service for the singer rather than at a club trying to rouse him from crying in his drink. When they finally do perk up down the stretch it sounds good simply because it sounds different, giving the impression that Lyons isn’t going to head into the bathroom to try and flush himself into the Gulf Of Mexico after his lengthy sob story.


Every Night And Day
I’m being more harsh on this than it really deserves. As an Amos Milburn knock-off it’s modestly adequate. It still doesn’t explain why you’d want to hear an imitative Milburn when his records cost the same 79 cents you’d spend to hear this, though I suppose 78 of those cents would be going to hearing Flychick Bounce on the other side which you’d listen to approximately 99 times out of every 100 spins you gave this record. But I’m not really down on this so much as I’m simply indifferent to it.

All of which leads back to something mentioned in yesterday’s review, that of the missed opportunity for Freedom Records to credit this aggregation of talented artists, who each have their own unique specialties, as a BAND rather than giving them standalone releases under one name or another as solo artists and forcing them to carry off material they might not quite be suited for when instead they could support each other and build a much more diverse catalog by letting each one handle what they’re best at.

In 1949 that would be a novel approach, something not done in rock music, nor really in popular music outside of the big bands who carried different vocalists. So I suppose you can’t fault Freedom Records for not having a crystal ball to see into the future and discern that was the way to go even though it hadn’t been tried yet.

But had they credited this to the band instead, letting Lyons handle the uptempo side he did so well but giving Far Away Blues to somebody more suited to it, then it might’ve been something worth hearing after all.


(Visit the Artist page of Lonnie Lyons for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)