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FEDERAL 12043; OCTOBER 1951

 
 

 

Doing someone a “solid” dates back centuries no doubt, as human beings always want to prove their friendship in order to show off or to see to it that friend owe them a small debt that can be cashed in down the line.

Cynical, but true enough.

This is the continuation of the favor that Johnny Otis was doing for his best friend, saxophonist Preston Love, giving him a chance to cut records for Federal where Otis was surreptitiously biding his time, helping out with Little Esther’s sessions while waiting for his own contract with Savoy to expire before the year was out.

But while Love was a great musician and certainly capable of playing rock ‘n’ roll, as he’d prove down the road, for the time being he was merely going through the motions on rather generic material and in the process maybe ensuring that he didn’t wind up getting himself into too much debt to his pal.
 

 

Now Those Days Are Gone
The musical leanings of both Preston Love and Johnny Otis were rooted in earlier styles – big band jazz with a heavy dose of pre-rock rhythms thrown in.

But whereas Otis, thanks in large part to his experience running The Barrelhouse Club in Watts during the late 1940’s, saw that a new style of music was captivating the youth who came in to dance and be entertained and thus was able to switch his focus to rock ‘n’ roll when he started recording again, Love had joined the bands of established jazz titans like Count Basie and thus his finger was not on the pulse of the rock audience when he got his first chance to record under his own name.

This is epitomized by the flip side, co-written by Otis and Love, called Twilight Blues, a very brash and brassy exotic record sung by Charlie Maxwell that is slightly alarming and yet strangely intriguing as well.

With their loud, insistent horns that sound almost as if they’re taunting Maxwell, the record could never be called rock but is worth checking out to see what Otis may have pursued had rock ‘n’ roll not turned his head.

But while all of them, Otis, Love and Federal producer Ralph Bass alike, may have appreciated that kind of outdated style, the fact of the matter is what sold – and what the record label wanted to emphasize for their own commercial prospects going forward – was rock ‘n’ roll and so on Unconscious Blues they attempted to craft something that was more aligned with our brand of music.

It’s still not a perfect fit, but it’s at least making overtures to it. Besides, nobody was expecting much out of this to begin with.
 

Awfully Hard To Get, Oh So Hard To Hold
This is another song which Johnny Otis had a hand in writing, but the question is which of them came up with the lyrics, because that’s by far the most notable aspect of this record. They may be somewhat generic by nature, but they’re focused, somewhat colorful at times and easily adaptable for rock ‘n’ roll.

Too bad the arrangement is not.

Therein lies the problem with Unconscious Blues, as the basic outline of it is suited for what Love needs to do in order to make a play for rock acceptance, yet the horns he’s saddled with here are determined to keep him as far away from that realm as possible.

Of course these aren’t Otis’s musicians, other than perhaps Devonia Williams on keys, but rather a slapdash group of jazziacs which include two trumpets, trombone and four saxophones including Love.

That’s a lot of hardware and all of it gets used, something that hardly qualifies as a good thing because right from the start they overwhelm the record with a blaring presence, shrill and in your face, which is a shame because the structure of what they’re playing is really pretty good had it just been confined to the two tenors rather than the rest of those noisy intruders.

Furthermore the rhythm section – when you can hear them that is – are fine and the piano is adding plenty of color, giving this the kind of vibrant underpinnings that we like to see. When the sax solo comes in it’s a little too lethargic maybe, but really atmospheric. With the rest of them romping away however it sounds almost out of place and you’d have liked to have heard that exact same refrain played in a more suitable song to take advantage of its haunting tones.

Love’s skill as a vocalist are modest at best, but he’s not the one dragging this down. He’s in tune, at least until the coda where he tries to stick the landing and trips up, his voice unable to pull off the sustained notes with confidence, but prior to that he’s adding some life to the story with his interpretive qualities.

The song may be little more than an extended plea to a former flame that Preston has grown weary of and is attempting to sidestep, but there’s at least a sensible narrative being laid out and the primary vocal refrain is catchy enough as he’s telling her bluntly to “leave me alone”.

Apparently she’s not listening – or has gone deaf from those horns and is unable to hear him – because he winds up threatening her in an effort to get her to stop bothering him as he hits the town with other women. Yet the constant clatter undercuts that message and once again proves that while horns can be a great asset when used judiciously, they’re far too easy to go off the rails and sink an otherwise perfectly acceptable effort.
 

I’ll Never Die A Clown
This is really a tale of two records. As written it’s not half bad. Preston Love may not be the ideal singer to pull it off, but he’s good enough to suffice and about half of the musicians are more than capable of aiding him in his cause.

Would Unconscious Blues, a title that appears nowhere in the song done by an artist that no rock fan had ever heard of, be a hit even in the best case scenario? Hardly, but we never do get to hear THAT record because instead the other part of it is so unrelenting we find ourselves reaching for the off button.

Usually the notion of a record aurally assaulting you is somewhat appealing to a lot of rock fans, be it the honking sax instrumentals of the previous few years, to the pounding piano rockers still to come by decade, or down the road the cacophonous garage rockers of the 60’s, their punk rock offspring of the 70’s, thrash metal bands of the 80’s or gangsta rappers of the 90’s, all of whom made their reputations on a full-frontal sonic bludgeoning.

But this record doesn’t bring the associated fury with it that made those styles stand out, instead it’s just an out-of-date sound being shoehorned into another brand of music by those who really should know better.

Whatever credit we can give them for coming up with a decent song to use to announce Love’s rock “aspirations”, gets canceled out because of the manner in which they went about it.

Turns out it wasn’t as much of a favor as Johnny Otis intended.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT: