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ALADDIN 3137; JULY 1952



One of the drawbacks of an artist being more talented than successful is that in order to try and find commercial success record companies and their employees sometimes stray far afield in an effort to court a different audience.

I suppose it makes sense in a way, if nobody answers door number one then you try door number two.

But when door number two takes them farther from rock ‘n’ roll our interest here is bound to decline, even if what they find behind that second door is really well done.

That doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate it for what it is though.


If You Don’t Mean It
Like most independent record labels Aladdin Records have made some boneheaded decisions when it comes to neglecting their core audience in search of a conceivably larger one who could care less they or their artists even exist, let alone want to listen to whatever they have to offer.

Usually Aladdin, unlike say Jubilee Records who we’ve just criticized for this, didn’t get carried away with this and would revert back to satisfying their prime constituency before long, but it’s always something that artists need to be aware of and take steps to negate or else they’ll be stylistically adrift and too far from shore to paddle back to dry ground.

Unlike someone like Amos Milburn, who had a deep track record of hits as a rocker to ensure he didn’t get pulled too far outside his lane, Mickey Champion has no such résumé to fall back on and since she’s a fresh arrival at the company after a year’s absence from the release rolls following a handful of singles on R.P.M. that were flawed in various ways (poor support, bad arrangements, subpar material), yet showed promise thanks to her vocal talents, it was almost a sure thing that she’d be tried in many different roles until she clicked commercially.

Maybe you can’t blame them too much, for they did let her try a saucy rock song on the other side and merely paired it with Don’t Say You Love Me, a tune that has a more uptown jazzy bent to it, and at least with Maxwell Davis presiding there’s little doubt that it will be carried off with some class.

But the bigger question is is this the best direction for Mickey Champion to head into – personally, based on her own vocal strengths, and commercially based on the most fertile market for selling records.

The answer to the second question was no, which might be good for those of us rooting for rock success instead, but the first question is more ambiguous as Champion shows she definitely knows how to sing, regardless of the stylistic territory the song fits into.


Don’t Mislead Me
To be fair, this isn’t jazz, nor pop… certainly not in the strictest sense, but it’s got enough of their DNA in its system to be reluctant to definitively say it’s rock either.

In truth it’s a hybrid song which is fine, lots of pure rock songs are hybrids of different styles OF rock and nobody complains, least of all us.

But when it’s a hybrid of rock and an outside genre altogether that’s when we do get a little wary, if only because we know the risks involved, especially at this stage of the game. If the record succeeds the labels – and industry as a whole – will naturally point to the older, more socially acceptable type of music as the reason for its popularity while downplaying the rock side of the equation which would mean Champion’s days playing in our neighborhood would be less frequent while the overall direction rock itself took might also be apt to steer into “safer” (I.E. more boring) ground.

That’s not Mickey Champion’s fault of course, but even so, as good of a job that she does on Don’t Say You Love Me, it might just be better off that this too fell on deaf ears.

Even before we get to her contributions though, what stands out is the class of the arrangement by Maxwell Davis, who deservedly gets a label credit here for his work which includes his own sultry sax work.

Unfortunately that while it’s well done, it’s practically the farthest out we can voluntarily go when venturing into the borders of the rock territory, as the supper club piano it’s adorned with tests our musical tolerance.

Luckily Mickey Champion herself is on our side… at least leaning in our direction, as she starts off with the accepted nightclub delivery but quickly ramps up the emotional levels into the red which tends to disturb the patrons and waitstaff at such places while exciting the busboys and kitchen help – not to mention the glowering faces staring into the bottom of the glass of their third drink at the bar – who are probably rock fans who find this turn of events to their liking.

She quickly dials it back down, but now people know she’s willing to unleash it at a moment’s notice and if nothing else they might start listening with rapt attention hoping for more.


Never Be Untrue
From here on in it’s an uneasy balancing act however, as she favors the more restrained approach for the most part even as she tries to slip in some melismatic runs and another outpouring of emotion later on.

But now there’s little surprise left in the move and the line isn’t as well executed, while the song itself proves to be a rather predictable subservient plea that we begrudgingly acknowledge but don’t get too wrapped up in.

The performances, at least Champion and Davis, are still first rate on a technical level, but the context we need to feel truly connected slips a little too far from our grasp to fully embrace Don’t Say You Love Me.

So we’ll smile, politely applaud the effort, maybe drop a few bucks in the tip jar on the piano (as long as we can guarantee the pianist isn’t taking it for himself since he didn’t earn a dime of it) and then we’ll throw back our last drink and head across the tracks in search of something more spirited to satisfy our musical cravings.

Hopefully Mickey and Max will slip out the back and join us after their set and there they’ll be allowed to really tear things up rather than be forced to act a little too classy for their own good.


(Visit the Artist page of Mickey Champion for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)