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Unlike books in a series, or films with sequels, songs seldom tell a continuing story…

I know that occasionally albums do, but they’re self-contained stories, simply broken into chapters. In the singles era however there were very few which tried this technique… Shirley and Lee kept a running narrative going, as did The Heartbeats which continued right into their later incarnation as Shep & The Limelites, but they’re the notable exceptions.

Yet depending on how closely you want to look, you might want to count this as the first of a two-part story separated by decades.

It’s probably not… and surely wasn’t intended to be when this was written and recorded… but with so many songs from a prolific artist’s catalog over so many years to sift through until they all seem to blur together, sometimes finding a connection, however tenuous it might be, makes studying the songs in question a little more interesting than usual.


Gonna Settle Down
Of all of rock’s first generation of singer-songwriters, Percy Mayfield may stand tallest. Certainly his compositions had the most care put into examining the human condition and while his songs tended to lean heavily towards introspective ballads, they suited his unique voice and featured deceptively catchy melodies despite their slower pacing.

Of course when you’re working with Maxwell Davis the musical side of the equation generally takes care of itself which leaves Mayfield to focus on what he does best, crafting highly personal stories like Louisiana, the state where he – like rock ‘n’ roll itself – was born.

Mayfield’s adult life was spent on the West Coast, moving there when he was 22. It’s where he first recorded. It’s where he became a star. It’s where his songwriting career for others, notably Ray Charles, flourished and it’s also where he passed away at the age of 63.

His youth however was spent in the Northwest part of Louisiana, near the Texas border, in a small town where he first began to write poetry. So it’s hardly surprising that once he became a national star he’d take the time to look back where it began for him.

For someone who usually took a cold-eyed view of life, perpetually cynical, suspicious and skeptical of humanity’s supposed higher nature, this record finds Mayfield taking not just one unusual approach in his writing, but two… which is what makes it so enticing.


I Love The Weary Sound
Right away you ask yourself if you have the right record as the song kicks off with a jittery rhythm – softly riffing horns, quirky off-beat drumming and eventually joined by a squiggly guitar, all contributing to give this a light funky vibe that is unlike the majority of Mayfield’s work to date.

When his voice comes in though you have no doubt it’s his record through and through, as nobody else in rock could duplicate that dry, almost detached hollow slightly nasal tenor of his which always gave the impression he’d been thinking of – and quietly discarding – another half dozen words for every one he uttered aloud.

The one constant in Percy Mayfield’s work is his conversational tone over what is usually – even in this case, albeit differently rendered – a low-key arrangement… that is to say, one where no instrument forces itself to the front and dominates the record.

Here he’s a bit more energized, but still laid-back in how it’s delivered. The tempo may be quicker, but he’s not matching that with a more forceful vocal by any means. It’s mesmerizing, albeit in an unusual way, like a soothsayer turning the tables on himself to be convinced to return home to Louisiana.

He makes sure to inform us that he’s got no beef with Los Angeles, complimenting the people, surely not complaining about the weather, but you can tell that his home state has something that’s not found elsewhere. He never spells it out exactly, but you can safely say it has to do with the relaxed lifestyle and simple pleasures that big city living doesn’t provide.

The reason he gives for this move back home however is to look for a wife, but it’s telling that he doesn’t have anyone particular in mind, nor does he even describe the type of girl he’s looking for, but like most who daydream like this, it’s not the person in question but the image of ALL residents from someplace familiar and comfortable that is most appealing. There’s an intrinsic safety to be found in someone with a similar background and shared experience.

We know Mayfield moved to Houston before making the trek to California, so his impressions of Louisiana may be a lot more ephemeral by nature… vague recollections rather than firm memories, but sometimes those are better, simply because reality doesn’t intrude on them.

Neither does the band, though they are by no means laying out here, giving this a herky-jerky feel that’s rooted around the drums throughout the record, but which even the piano solo picks up on, its notes never falling precisely where and when you expect, making the entire thing sound restless… maybe even suggesting he’s more of a footloose wanderer searching for a place to lay his head as opposed to desperately longing for a home that may exist only in his imagination.


That’s My Home
As is always the case with Percy Mayfield, the idiosyncratic nature of his style is the main sonic allurement and while this is decidedly different than most of his output, it’s still distinctly “him”.

In fact, it’s almost surprising to see that it’s his second most streamed track after his #1 hit, Please Send Me Someone To Love, especially because the lyrical side of the song isn’t as deep by design and has no resolution to the story, which is actually more of a wistful thought put to tape, something conveyed further by the horn solos which are the equivalent of aural smoke… easy to see and feel but hard to grab hold of.

Now, as to the idea of Louisiana possibly being seen as the first of a two-part story spanning nearly two decades with larger implications… well, as stated that’s reading a lot into things but if you were so inclined you could certainly take the formative message here, which he spells out in no uncertain terms – “Gonna settle down in my own hometown” – and come to a fairly logical conclusion about the eventual outcome based on a 1964 song that picks up on that idea.

Many years have passed (so if we take this at face value he never did make it back in the 1950’s) when he finally decides to go back and promptly finds he’s a Stranger In My Own Hometown.

It’s got a vaguely similar funky arrangement and presents the disappointing aftermath to his return where nobody really is glad to see him, the town itself isn’t as friendly as he remembered and while he’s determined to stick it out, he makes it clear that the decision to move back was probably ill-advised.

It may just be coincidence… or it could be simply he was in need of material and borrowed a few loose ideas from this record but crafted a totally unrelated story that share just a word or two and some unsubstantiated similarities.

Or, because this is one of the most thoughtful songwriters in rock history, it could be that he felt this song was unfinished and that it held out a little too much hope for his misanthropic demeanor and so he set about correcting that impression by making sure you knew that as intriguing as he made it sound on this record, you really can’t go home again after all.


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