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SAVOY 788; JUNE 1951



There are certain attributes that make something almost guaranteed to be overlooked.

People who are quiet and modest will tend to be overshadowed by those who are loud and narcissistic. Things which are subtle and discreet by definition won’t draw nearly as much attention as something that’s flashy and ostentatious.

In music introspective ballads are bound to be drowned out by songs which are fast paced and full of energy.

When the latter also featured a legendary behind the scenes figure making his vocal debut on the top side of this record you can surely see why this well-crafted expertly delivered slow burner by ol’ reliable Mel Walker was going to be passed over, both at the time it came out and the years since.


Won’t Have To Cry No More
In a few years time bandleader Johnny Otis will be working for Duke/Peacock Records in Houston, still a valuable commodity but no longer than multi-faceted star he was at the start of the decade.

His vast retinue of singing stars were scattered to the wind, his songwriting output had slowed to a trickle and the tunes he did manage to publish were increasingly out of step with the evolving styles of the day. Even his name recognition was no longer deemed worthy of giving him a label credit to boost interest.

But he still was a great producer and bandleader and it was in those capacities that he helped to keep rock’s poster child for mellow love ballads, Johnny Ace, sitting a top the charts.

If you wanted to see Otis’s test run for that brand of rock ‘n’ roll then look no further than Mel Walker’s New Love, a song that on the surface seems to be nothing special. A slow contemplative look at the ups and downs of romance with a melody that seems to unfurl itself a little at a time like a spool of thread, the record has no big musical moments designed to snap your head back, no clever twist in the tale or startling vocal turns to leave you in awe.

Instead Walker and Otis methodically assemble the sturdiest building blocks they can find, trusting that if the audience is content to patiently follow the path they’re laying out they’ll appreciate the final destination when they arrive.


Treats Me Sweet And Kind
These are the kind of songs that Mel Walker’s languid baritone was designed for in the laboratory. A crawling pace that still retains a melodic pull delivering reflective lyrics that merely elaborate the bare bones story made perfectly clear by the end of the first line if not already obvious by the title itself.

On paper there seems to be very little to work with here, it’s atmospheric music for late nights spent alone… filler material… a non-essential B-side.

It was something reliant on Walker projecting a heartfelt honesty that went hand in hand with his weary vocal tones, but more than that these inward looking accounts of one’s life seemed to benefit from his ability to dissect the emotional undercurrents of the lyrics and breathe life into the simple concepts.

You’d think with a title like New Love this would be a song of hope, optimism and joy, but instead it’s more about what led to him needing to look for a new love because of how his old love treated him. Still dejected over the crumbling earlier relationship, Walker is almost using the girl he’s with now as a shield in confronting his former girlfriend and it doesn’t take much psychoanalysis to see that he’s still hung up on the one who treated him badly.

Though he never gets angry about it each word of this is addressed to her, almost as if he’s hoping the combination of his evident misery and the boasts of how well he’s being treated by her de facto replacement will be enough to get the first girl to see the error of her ways and reconsider.

Of course that will mean the current flame will be the one left to moan about how HER guy used her and then dumped her, but maybe by then Johnny Otis will have found another female singer to replace Little Esther and he can craft a song from this perspective for her.

As for his work in framing this song for Walker’s use, Johnny winds up giving him an understated gem of an arrangement that can stand with most anything he’s done.


Still I See You All The While
Just because a bandleader keeps returning to the same basic materials doesn’t mean those materials aren’t effective when used properly. We tend to gravitate towards rewarding the shock value of hearing something new and unexpected in music over the more predictable tracks highlighting efficient craftsmanship but if a song is to work then all of its parts have to fit together and add to ambiance created by the vocals rather than try and stand out on its own.

The recognizable features of New Love are all evident right off the bat… Otis’s own lush vibes creating a pensive mood, the distant moaning horns reflecting the character’s emotional seclusion and the twisting electric guitar underneath which suggests the turmoil within that is about to come to the surface as Walker lets the story unfold.

All of these pieces are layered on top of one another with the volume essentially muted to set the stark scene. It’s a fragile structure however, something that could easily be toppled by just one poorly chosen passage – a blaring trumpet, a honking sax or an overly delicate piano solo, all of which loom as potentially destructive pieces when we head into the instrumental break.

Instead Otis defers to Pete Lewis’s guitar, telling him to keep it in the breakdown lane, blinkers on, wheels just barely turning, and the resulting solo is haunting and absolutely mesmerizing.

It’s not just the eerie tone, one which starts off with a low buzzing effect before spiraling upwards until it almost sounds like a bowed instrument rather than one created by fingers and a pick, but it’s also the sensitivity with which he plays that makes this so alluring.

Each pause between the notes are expertly judged, as if Lewis was consciously thinking of all of the facts Walker has revealed and was looking for the corresponding musical touch to give it resonance. In rock, where guitar solos are more often than not seen as a way to increase the energy and excitement of a song, this one downshifts everything until you are left on an island and forced to share the same conflicted outlook of the singer he’s so deftly backing.

It all might be too tasteful to be noticed by many, but for those who fall under its spell it will be almost impossible to get out of your mind.

You Linger On My Mind
Great two-sided records ideally should be able to give you two distinctly different feelings as the songs play, something this release does brilliantly.

But when one of those songs is so easily embraced on first listen, something designed to get your attention and hold it with a communal vibe, a vivid story and a rousing vocal it’s all to easy to focus entirely on that one while dismissing the side which requires more focus and attention to detail.

Heading into this single I had no doubt All Nite Long was the better half for all the reasons mentioned plus the fact it was Johnny Otis’s first vocal lead and a charted hit on top of it all.

This side by comparison may have been well done for what it was, but the shallow impression it gives is that it was no more than a typical B-side.

Except it’s not.

Though the components of New Love are modest by nature, they’re all expertly chosen and brilliantly executed. Whereas the smaller details on the top side come up a little short – the trumpet and group vocals a definite step down from the lead and overall theme – on this side all of the side pieces are as good as they get and add something of value to the overall production.

While the songs themselves are as different as night and day, the end results are the same. Two really good records which show that there’s more than one way to leave a strong impression on a listener.


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