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Back in June, Savoy Records released a song by The Four Buddies called My Summer’s Gone, ignoring the fact that summer was actually just beginning and thus discounting the possibility that audiences might shy away from something that portended the inevitable loss of the beautiful hot sunny days that still awaited them.

Whether or not that was the reason such a great record failed to become a big hit is unknown but apparently Aladdin Records didn’t heed the warning presented by that commercial miss as they too are using a calendar that seems off by a few months with their latest single by Peppermint Harris that forces us to envision dark cold snowy days just as autumn’s leaves were beginning to turn colors.


Hear The Cold Wind Blow
One of the “problems” we’ve had with Peppermint Harris over the years is his vacillation between rock approaches and blues. We can respect his interest in both, even admire his ability to convincingly embody the requirements of each of the forms, but when trying to get a handle on his artistic development it has a tendency to throw us off.

Being a rock fan does not mean you aren’t capable of – or willing to – listen to and enjoy other genres of music. Blues is the bedrock of virtually all great styles of the past hundred years and the mid-century run is arguably the best period of its story.

If we could come up with 84 hour days I’d love to do this same kind of project for the blues, but let it be said that in that scenario the great rock songs which possessed enough bluesy elements to be included on the margins there would suffer accordingly in the scores because they deviate too much from the core blues style.

Conversely songs like Middle Of Winter which manage to sneak in the rock door thanks largely to its arrangement are going to be hurt in the end results here.

It’s nothing personal and it definitely doesn’t show a dislike of the blues… it simply means the records in question are veering too far outside the main stem of the genre at hand and thus aren’t representative of that type of music at its best.

Context… a word mentioned only about 12,963 times around here, is the ultimate arbiter when it comes to fairly evaluating anything in life and unfortunately sometimes that means innocent artists who fully intended to delve into these other realms are made to suffer.


My Mind Jumps Way Back
When looking at his two most recent A-sides which found Harris convincingly portraying a drunk, the most interesting thing about them if you’re familiar with his past catalog was how different he sounded vocally in this role.

Harris has an odd “regular” voice – or at least it seems to be his regular singing voice – a foggy baritone, slightly nasal and very solemn which is indeed better suited for the blues, even when often times the themes and the musical accompaniment made the songs fit better in rock ‘n’ roll.

That stylistic divide has caused him some problems, not just with us but with audiences, for if you like a more rocking side by Harris and then faithfully pick up his next single and find it is leaning heavily towards the blues you’re bound to be disappointed. If this happens again then you might just start avoiding him altogether, not because he’s isn’t doing that style justice, but because it’s not the type of music you’re most interested in hearing.

That’s the case with Middle Of Winter, a good song that belongs in another genre as Harris is nothing if not blue as he bemoans to loss of his girl. Heck, he even starts off with the words, ”Blues, blues, blues”, although he follows that up by saying “Blues please go away”, a view we support wholeheartedly.

At least Maxwell Davis is taking that request to heart by adding his own saxophone to the mix, giving this as much of a rock feel as he can muster, his lines curling up like smoke from a cigarette at the corner table in a dark club.

It’s that beguiling smoky vibe – the sax not the butts – that is the only alluring part to rock-centric audiences here, but because it’s an atmospheric touch around the edges rather than the main imprint left by the record, it can only do so much.

Even Davis seems to acknowledge this as rather than take a solo himself he hands off to the guitar which leaves no doubt the song’s true allegiance, with a slow bluesy run that deepens the misery projected by Harris in that downcast tone of voice of his.

At least Harris wrote a good song, painting an effective picture of a man overwhelmed by sadness over his broken romance using vivid details of his life in the present before reflecting on the past. Even though it’s certainly fitting for the subject, you almost curse its meandering pace because you definitely want to hear more about his plight and instead you get only the brief outline rather than the full script.

But while this song highlights Harris’s talents quite well, they’re talents being applied mostly to a side project if you will. Thus when you dropped a nickel into the jukebox in the hopes of getting something more in line with your tastes, you probably will feel let down… through absolutely no fault of his own.

Them’s the breaks.


Standing By The Window
Finding an artistic balance between different approaches is never an easy thing.

Some, like fellow Aladdin star Amos Milburn, were able to be equally successful with rousing uptempo rockers and more soulful ballads, but of course both were framed entirely within rock’s boundaries and thus, while far different sounds, had enough in common to find favor with the same audience.

Peppermint Harris though seemed to have two entirely different audiences in mind with his work. The sides we’ve praised were meant for rock fans… younger, maybe a little more optimistic in life, certainly more inclined to use music as a way to enhance their own good times. Meanwhile sides like Middle Of Winter seemed to be for those who’ve become resigned to the fact their lives are not all they had hoped and thus they’re almost taking solace in hearing someone else enduring the same pain.

There’s definitely a need for both perspectives, just as there is for more than one type of music, so in a blues context this is definitely an above average record – at least a (6) and maybe, especially after hearing that exquisite last stanza, even a (7) – but if considered in a rock context it can’t help but fall well short of breaking even.

Maybe it’s not fair that he even be judged in this environment for something that was primarily intended for another, but when you’ve given us so many good rockers it’s only natural that those rock fans, loyal and eager for more, will check out everything you do and with high hopes sometimes come shattered dreams… which come to think of it is practically the definition of the blues after all.

In that regard I guess Harris did know what he was doing, even if in this case it’s a lesson we’d rather have avoided learning.


(Visit the Artist page of Peppermint Harris for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)