Having just stated in the review of the top side of this release – a decent record in its own right – that its one downfall was not giving the horns enough of a presence to break up the guitar-driven track, here on the flip side René Hall basically hands everything over to the horns.

Wow! Talk about a quick reaction… thanks for heeding our advice, René, it’s good to know we command such respect!

Actually, since this record came out seventy years ago last month I can’t help but surmise that it had nothing to do with our review at all, but even so it’s nice to be able to chart someone’s progress in such rapid fashion for a change.

Putting Together The Body
As stated yesterday, though René Hall wouldn’t find any major success as an artist he was never hurting for lack of work in other areas down the road, session guitarist (or bassist occasionally), arranger and producer, all of which led to plenty of industry respect and admiration.

But as nice as it is to be appreciated by your peers most musicians want some wider acclaim and since Hall was releasing records under his own name that indicates he was no different. Had these records hit then surely his future course would’ve changed so we’re glad the disappointment in his own career as a featured artist led to a more rewarding one behind the scenes, but for those paying attention to these initial releases under his own name there was already growing evidence that he was destined for bigger things in those other areas.

Case in point, Blowing Awhile, a record he may not have written but which shows him at least working out some arranging ideas by essentially dissecting the carcass of rock instrumentals that preceded this and then re-assembling the parts as if it were a lab experiment to see what worked and what didn’t.

That it manages to come together as cohesively as it does in spite of that approach is something that should be recognized even if the drawbacks of that Dr. Frankenstein impersonation winds up holding it back from all it could be when a leg goes where an arm should be.

Piece By Piece
The interesting thing here, as alluded to when starting this review, is that the instruments which took a back seat on René’s Boogie are the ones which get the most prominent showcase here starting with the piano which was only faintly heard in the background last time out but now gets a nice stuttering procession to lead this off. It’s hardly anything special unto itself, rather crudely played even by Eddie Swanston, but when he hits those first keys it jolts you and that’s never a bad way to kick of a track designed to get you moving.

The full compliment of horns that follows (trumpet and two tenors) begins rather tamely before the song’s writer, the acclaimed jazz sax of Buddy Tate takes over with the first solo on Blowing Awhile. Again, though he’s a great musician the playing here isn’t exactly scintillating but at least it’s got the right idea for rock ‘n’ roll, digging down for a little bit of a grimy feel to make sure to establish the dominant rock sound but once he steps aside that feel goes out the window when Reunald Jones’s trumpet enters in its place.

Here’s the part that inevitably will sink the record, robbing it of the attitude needed to really connect as the best rock instrumentals were doing. By now it should be apparent that the trumpet, though justly celebrated in jazz, was ill-fitting in rock, especially for anything more than brief accent notes.

But I suppose everyone needs to see for themselves and these guys were no exception. Jones plays with reasonable vigor but wanders off-key and seems to know, even if Hall still needs convincing, that he and his horn have no business taking center stage on a rock song.

Hall himself is the one to step in to pull it out of the fire, turning in a fine, if slightly subdued, solo on guitar, his licks losing none of their sting even as he doesn’t go for the kill. Instead he leaves that job to Tate who returns with a more energetic solo on tenor, full of honks, fluttering notes and an insistent closing run that most skilled musicians making an early foray into rock are apt to find repetitive, crass and beneath them but to his credit Tate doesn’t show any signs of being unhappy with the task at hand.

That in of itself might be the most notable aspect of this record – and the musicians involved – their basic acknowledgement of the standards they were expected to adhere to (I’d say “live up to” but I think we can agree that description might be pushing their agree-ability in this department a little too far). Suffice it to say, they were at least comfortable with making a genuine effort to fit in.

There’s nothing really great about Blowing Awhile, the record is serviceable at best, but it’s also a reasonable fit in the rock instrumental landscape and any time you’re trying to assess the compatibility of any visiting musicians that’s always the first thing you look for. Though the others would return to jazz soon enough and get plenty of acclaim for it, Hall would of course stick around and shore up the deficiencies shown early on and become a valued member of the rock team going forward.


…And Step By Step
It might seem strange to be complimenting René Hall for delivering what is certainly a slightly below average record for rock ‘n’ roll in early 1950 but in essence he was doing his learning in a public setting and so his missteps will appear to be more glaring than if he were woodshedding these ideas in private.

But the concept behind this, giving each instrument a chance to shine, especially in his willingness to hand over the reins to those who had gotten very little of the spotlight last time around, was something that gave an early indication of why he was held in such esteem by musicians down the road when he was running sessions himself.

Likewise while he failed to intuitively grasp how outdated certain elements were becoming he didn’t shortchange the appearance of those which were defining rock, allowing Blowing Awhile a showcase for Buddy Tate while at the same time hinting at how the guitar can be used to compliment that sound rather than clash with it.

Maybe if we didn’t know what lay in store for René Hall down the line we wouldn’t make too much of these modest highlights on a record that was otherwise irrelevant to rock’s evolution, but for Hall’s own personal evolution this was a day well spent in the classroom and since we know that he learned those lessons well that were being taught in the school of hard knocks – otherwise known as the marketplace – this stands as another productive misfire.

He might have preferred a productive hit of course, but records released a month after Christmas means it’s probably a little late for making those requests. In the long run he’d earn plenty of gifts for his work so having to return this one to the store to exchange it for something a bit more modern wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to him.


(Visit the Artist page of René Hall for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)