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REGENT 1022; AUGUST 1950



There’s something to be said for releasing songs that are right in somebody’s wheelhouse… records where the artist and audience both know what to expect going in.

Though the artist doesn’t always like not getting a chance to show off their creativity and the fans may not appreciate the fact they’re not going to be surprised by what they hear, there’s a certain safety in simply meeting expectations.

On a single where the one side does in fact present a slightly new element to the equation it was perfectly understandable – even advisable – to cut down on the risks on the flip side, even if that also means you weren’t going to wind up with anything special.


Tonight In The Moonlight
There’s another reason why records that meet audiences stylistic expectations are forgivable in the absence of greater experimentation… namely that when they DO shake things up in the future it’ll stand out better if their preferred approach has been set in stone over the course of countless prior records.

After all it’s hard to surprise people if they already don’t know what to expect from one release to the next.

So since Mel Walker has shown a knack for weary laments in his solo efforts then doubling down on that here only reinforces that image which better sets up his more varied performances when paired with Little Esther, the sparring partner he needs to bring out different elements of his persona.

Alone his persona remains somewhat fixed to take advantage of his stuffy baritone and languorous delivery, both of which form the basis of Lonely Blues, a song that more or less goes through the motions, but at least does so with a fair amount of pride in the work.


To Hear Your Voice Is Just Like Heaven
The question an artist, or in this case the supervising creator behind the artist, has to ask themselves is if their primary attribute alone is compelling enough to draw interest time and time again.

In Mel Walker’s case that would be the effect his voice has on (primarily) women who hear him pouring his heart out and want to comfort him… by using all their nickels to play his records that is.

It’s not a bad game plan for Walker always sounds genuinely sincere in his solo laments over a distant love, but there are after all only so many ways to express these heartaches before they become redundant… though Sonny Til hasn’t yet run out of them yet which apparently makes Walker feel there’s plenty more water to be drawn from the same well.

But if Lonely Blues isn’t exactly lacking for new details about how he’s hoping for his girl’s affections there’s not much here that sparkles with lyrical creativity either. It’s merely hitting all of the expected sentiments like clockwork rather than trying to set itself apart with a novel twist on the subject.

We’re not exactly sure what separated them in the first place… it sounds as if she either moved away (and maybe he should take that as a hint), or it could be she’s just visiting a faraway relative (again, Mel… read between the lines here, buddy). But Walker is definitely still in contact with her and fully expects them to be back in each other’s arms before long. Because he’s alone and because it’s 1950 and pornography wasn’t as easy to come by, he’s left with no reliable means with which to alleviate his… ahh… “desires” (?) – hey, for the record, he himself uses the term “each throbbing beat… of my poor heart”, but he leaves you hanging there for a second and I don’t think it’s by accident either.

Anyway, he takes it upon himself to call her and the song is his long drawn out message to her that has her wishing they had invented voicemail a half century or so earlier than they did so she could more easily skip this fairly indulgent sob story he’s laying on her.

Mel’s not singing it badly or anything, he’s definitely down in the dumps and you feel for him, but this is hardly the way to go about making sure she hurries home. Find a hobby, show you can occupy your time without her and she’ll be more likely to want to come back and prove to YOU that she’s irreplaceable, rather than have you harassing her late at night to tell her that yourself just because you can’t sleep.

One Thought Gives Me Consolation
With such a sorrowful mood being conveyed by Walker it should come as no surprise that Johnny Otis and company find it necessary to inject a little life into this to offset the despondency.

It’s a very dense track with lots of parts shifting subtly behind Walker’s vocals, despite the moderate pace they have to work with. From the horns that kick it off to Devonia Williams on piano and Johnny’s ever-present vibraphone both adding discreet melodic cues along the way there’s a lot going on here if you pay close attention.

The obvious focal point is Pete Lewis’s single string guitar work, bending notes and keeping you hanging on each subtle riff, which even might be slightly more rewarding than Mel’s morose narrative. As always Lewis is a master of creating an ambiance and then expanding on it without losing sight of the main goal which is to not overshadow the singer.

As such Lonely Blues has got a pretty efficient arrangement to help offset its conceptual limitations as a song, but there’s not much they can do to shake things up without breaking the mood as even the instrumental break is fairly cut and dried with Lewis deferring to some modestly riffing horns that add a bit of life without getting carried away.

Their best move however comes after that break when Walker returns and the trumpet answers him with some impatient squawking, almost as if revealing Mel’s underlying impatience with his situation, a decidedly visual cue which shows that in the right circumstances even that often ill-suited instrument could be utilized effectively.

But even as all the parts work well within the context of the record, the fact remains that the record itself wasn’t aiming high enough for that to make too much of a difference.


You’ll Be Back Someday
Considering that Walker and Otis offered something a little more unique on the top side of this release, you can’t blame them for playing the percentages on the B-side and giving the audience something entirely in line with what they expected.

But then again when you do that you can’t expect the audience to actually be very excited about receiving what they’ve come to anticipate whenever they see Mel Walker’s name adorning a record on his own.

Lonely Blues is nothing that is going to cause his fans to leave him as his girl apparently did, but it’s not anything that will get him many new fans – or girls – either and as a result it’s little more than a placeholder in his career.

Modestly agreeable to hear in certain settings but not demanding to be heard is still a better fate however than being intolerable to suffer through. Hardly the best recommendation I suppose, but not a warning to stay away either.


(Visit the Artist pages of Mel Walker and Johnny Otis for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)