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KING 4578; NOVEMBER 1952



Just because a new artist has a breakthrough hit that people can’t get enough of doesn’t necessarily mean the artist is someone they’ll want to hear again and again.

Few artists score with every single release no matter how good they are, so continued success obviously has to do with the composition, the arrangement and finding a fresh innovative style for that moment in time.

In some cases however, it’s not just the quality of the song that will determine their popularity going forward, because the artist in question was so unique that there was also a sense of curiosity to hear whatever unusual traits they had to offer.

Once you’d heard and fully absorbed that distinctively odd trait though, it may prove difficult getting enough people interested enough to to listen to what else they served up further down the road.


I’m Not Lying When I Say I’ll Be Trying
With a piercing high-pitched singing voice you’d think Lula Reed might’ve gone into another field of endeavor.

A dental hygienist. A drill press operator. Running Ford Motors. Maybe a painter if she wanted to follow her artistic bent.

But using THAT voice to try and entice listeners probably wasn’t what her high school guidance counselors would’ve tried steering her into.

Yet somehow she became successful enough at it to score a huge hit with I’ll Drown In My Tears when she hooked up with pianist Sonny Thompson her first time out, then followed it up with another Top Ten entry a few months later.

Though Thompson once again backs her on this song, this time it’s not HIS name on label getting the lead artist credit. In fact he’s not mentioned anywhere but on the session sheets submitted to the union, which may have confused listeners who hadn’t even noticed Lula Reed’s name in microscopic font on the last two sides.

But while that might explain its comparatively poor commercial showing, it shouldn’t affect the record itself, which was written by King Records producer Henry Glover who also penned her other hits including the immortal debut.

Like that first song, Let Me Be Your Love is a slower rumination on longing, only this time rather than be in the throes of despair after being dumped, Reed is back on the horse so to speak, trying to find a new guy who will overlook her persistent vocal whine and love her for who she is.

Of course in this era of rock she’s hardly alone with this strange affliction. There have been multiple female singers with atypical singing voices who have scored hits… Little Esther and Laurie Tate most prominently… and since none of them seemed to have trouble eliciting widespread interest, she might not be as bad off when it comes to landing a fella as she thinks.


Hold Me Dearest In Your Heart
Unfortunately for Lula Reed this time around she’s got a lot less to work with than her first two times out, when the songs were better, the arrangements seemed fresher and perhaps the audience were more startled by the sounds she was emitting rather than taken aback by them.

This one is decidedly modest in its intentions, almost trying to sneak up on you with its creeping horns that lead instantly to Reed’s pensive vocal on the chorus that kicks this off, tweaking the melody a little in the process which actually sounds more inquisitive than the way she delivers it later on following the verses.

The sentiments themselves put her in a position of sympathy, as she’s asking for a guy to just care about her enough to give her hope that a relationship may follow. It’s not begging, but it’s about as far as she can take this sort of thing while still retaining a sliver of pride.

Yet that voice… though obviously distinctive… presents something of a drawback here because it keeps you at arm’s length which is hardly what a song like this needs to win you over.

Her work on the bridge in particular is almost off-putting, as she’s bearing down too hard and in the process revealing its weaknesses even more than usual. Yet coming out of that when she sings “If you Let Me Be Your Love, your sweetheart… not a friend”, pausing for effect between each phrase, she’s so vulnerable that it damn near breaks your heart.

The few moments she drops down slightly the more you’re drawn in, which is what you WANT on a song like this, but then her voice climbs back higher and instead of feeling protective towards her, striving to comfort her in her sadness, you shy away again, sort of like you do when somebody is collecting money outside the door of a supermarket.

Make no eye contact, don’t speak and for god’s sake whatever you do, keep moving!

Reed’s handling the rejection – of both the guy in the song and you the listeners – as well as she can, but the support system she has in Thompson’s band is a little lacking today. They’re providing only a skeletal backing for her, his ghostly piano is distant and only minimally active, playing as few notes as possible while still keeping the melodic framework theoretically intact.

Likewise the horns are more rumor than fact, as we’re given the slowest shortest sax solo in recent memory, though at least it chooses a lower register so it doesn’t get confused with Reed’s wispy vocals.

While there’s no point where she or the song really trip up, there’s few moments where everything fully comes together and transcends its construction. But the melody, such as it is, works well enough, and she remains fully in character throughout the story and if her outlook is rather pathetic, it’s by design, not the fault of her choices in the studio.

As a result it’s hard to criticize, even though it’s equally hard to really find a whole lot to praise. If not for her voice this would be utterly forgettable, yet maybe the limitations of that voice is what are preventing them from trying something more daring.


Your Love Will Guide Me To The End
This sense of discovery in an artist from one song to the next, both for the songwriters and producers as well as the audience, is nothing new in rock – or any creative music – of course.

You start off with a good idea and if it works, you try it again, making a few adjustments hopefully, until you’re met with increased success or diminishing returns.

In the case of the latter you then you go back to the old drawing board and try something a little different.

If you had to guess though, the fact that Let Me Be Your Love is perfectly adequate might give them pause rather than compel them to start from scratch, figuring that maybe they just didn’t have the right song, or went a little too easy on the arrangement, rather than returned to the same well once too often.

To be honest though, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about that either way. On one hand at this point we have no way of knowing if Lula Reed could handle something more challenging than this type of meditative ballad. On the other hand, though we’ve liked her performances in the past, and even this one we’re only a little more ambivalent towards rather than object to it outright, there’s no sense of eager anticipation to hear each new side from her as there’d be with somebody else with her track record.

Maybe that just means that if and when she gets hits in the future, you’ll know that it wasn’t due to name recognition or listening to her out of force of habit or a sense of obligation, but rather that she’ll have earned it.

With this one she just didn’t quite earn it.


(Visit the Artist page of Lula Reed for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)