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Crying about your unfortunate predicament in life every chance you get is a sure way to prevent strangers from sidling up next to you in a bar.

Who really wants their beer watered down with your salty tears anyway?

But when you’re a singer/songwriter who makes his living telling such mournful tales it pays to not drive your audience away so quickly and so Percy Mayfield, with a reputation for songs of weary despair, needed to find a way to do so in ways that were different enough from one side to the next to keep listeners hooked.

Amazingly he never seemed to have any trouble whatsoever doing just that.


My Work Has Just Begun
On the surface you might say that this record closely follows the basic script he’s laid out over the past year or so on a succession of hits and equally potent uncharted sides.

You have Maxwell Davis’s understated arrangement… steadily moaning horns highlighting a melody that’s catchy enough to remembered without deviating from the downcast mood they’re looking to establish.

On top of that you have Percy Mayfield’s distinctive slightly weather-beaten voice drawing out the song at a lethargic pace while delivering a story that finds him once again doing time in an emotional jail cell thanks to the loss of the one he loved.

Heck, the song is called Cry Baby for heaven’s sake, so unless that’s the phrase he’s using to attack his ex with, you know he’s hip deep in gloom before the record even cues up.

But while the basic plot and musical trappings remain eminently familiar to listeners, once again it’s the way he tells about this sad affair that sets this record apart from the rest of his catalog, injecting just enough incriminating evidence against himself for being such a fool to ensure you don’t simply hand over your sympathy to him along with the package of tissues you always keep in your pocket in case you run into Mayfield moaning about his tattered love life on the street while you stagger out of the tavern.

It may not be a funny song, certainly not if you’re Percy Mayfield who has to publicly admit his failings, but by leaning into how pathetic he looks the record takes on a much more unique image than his usually stoic determination in the face of heartbreak and rejection.


When Night Falls Like A Shadow
The song has what could best be described as a “stately” melody, one that prances along rather than glides or struts as so many rock records do.

It’s not pompous exactly, but it gives the impression that Mayfield may have been a little full of himself when this affair began and is being put in his place during the fallout over the split.

If that’s indeed the case it may be poetic justice that he wound up with a woman who dragged his heart through the gutter, but even if he was never anything but an angel with her his tone is a little whiny and so no matter how inclined you are to take Mayfield’s side based on his track record in such events, on Cry Baby there’s cause for holding back that allegiance until you get a little more to go on.

Unfortunately this is one of the more sparse lyrical efforts, for while he typically crams in a lot of details in the lines, this song has fewer verses to allow the instruments to get more time in the spotlight.

The one stanza that makes the biggest impact though is the second where after claiming how he did his best to keep his baby satisfied he reveals that she treated him “rotten” making him the laughing stock of the neighborhood.

The indignant way in which he spits out “rotten” is worth a point on its own here, practically inviting you to envision him with a sour scowl on his face over the painful memory he has of this behavior. The line itself may not read humorously on paper, but the delivery is priceless.

Equally impressive, albeit in a different way, is Maxwell Davis’s work on the arrangement, shifting from that aforementioned stately melody in the verses to his own sax solo which contains a surprising amount of grit and grime, digging deeper than you’d think was appropriate to further suggest that there’s more to the story than Mayfield is telling.

Though it never takes on a raw or raunchy sound, there’s a sultry veil of danger lurking behind each line which conjures up the kind of roadhouse scene where his girl may have wound up every night, grinding away with strangers in the dark while Mayfield did the dishes at home.

By the time he admits that he’s about to be driven insane you may not be rooting for him to be committed exactly, but you’re at least curious to see if he can talk himself out of the straitjacket when they come to get him.


I Did Everything I Could
As B-sides go, maybe you’d still have liked something with even more overt differences to the top half when it comes to everything from the character’s state of mind to the tempo, instrumentation and overall production, just to set it apart fully.

But while Cry Baby is but a mere variation on a theme, it’s still an outlier in the sense that Mayfield is not the most compelling character in this tale when all is said and done.

Though we never DO get to met her, or even know her name let alone her specific transgressions, we’re far more intrigued by the woman who left Percy than we are about Percy himself.

We know where we can find him after all, at the end of that bar with teardrops trickling down his cheek as the other patrons steer clear of him on their way to the restroom or to order up another round.

The girl in question however is the one we’re on the lookout for, because from what he’s told us when midnight rolls around she’ll be the one having fun while he’s still looking for a shoulder to cry on.

Since that’s always where you can find any self-respecting rock fan looking to come along for the ride we’ll gladly leave him alone with his misery so we can track her down and party until dawn.

Sorry Percy, here’s those tissues… Tell ya what, why don’t you just keep them and we’ll catch up with you later, right now we have a pressing date and wouldn’t want to keep her waiting.


(Visit the Artist page of Percy Mayfield for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)