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RPM 373; NOVEMBER 1952



Some artists are as steady as they come. Though every song in their catalogs aren’t necessarily of the same quality, they tend to have consistent standards in how they’re constructed and delivered.

In other words you know more or less what you’re going to get when you slap one of their records on the turntable.

But other artists are much more up and down with their output and not only do the songs vary greatly in quality, but oftentimes within the same song there are high points and low points that make each spin of their records a total crapshoot.

Arguably no rock artist during this era embodied that dichotomy quite like Rosco Gordon, who once again delights and frustrates in equal measure here.


Just Give Me A Minute
With a proclivity for choppy rhythms, quirky vocals and some songs that go around in circles lyrically, it’s always going to be hard for Rosco Gordon to diversify his output without completely changing who he was.

Yet by sticking largely within that framework it means that unless he’s just repeating himself endlessly then the swings between highs and lows will be much more pronounced, simply because he’s got fewer workable variations he can turn to over time.

By contrast artists who constantly switch between upbeat party songs, romantic ballads, swaggering boasts and mournful laments are always working with vastly different components thereby ensuring that they can keep things fresh while audiences enter each release without quite knowing what to expect.

On Blues For My Baby the same attributes we just heard on the flip side are all present and accounted for here. The spoken intro, the disconsolate perspective, the funky piano and Gordon’s various eccentricities and vocal tics are back in full force.

But whereas those traits were all applied with admirable precision on Lucile, this time around things are somewhat off-kilter. When they hit on all cylinders, the sound is still appealing, but when they’re just a little bit off that’s when it sorta loses you.


A Great Big Lie
The way this starts off with piano, horns and drums interlocking while Rosco Gordon and someone from the band trade spoken-word barbs, you think this is bound to be one of his records where everything fits together and flows effortlessly.

For awhile it does, as the horns carry the riff behind Gordon’s vocals while he adds sensible fills on the keys giving it a vibrant sound that has you eagerly anticipating where he’ll take things. But as it goes along you get the sense that he’s not quite sure of his destination himself because he seems to be stalling for time, stretching out words beyond their breaking point, not for added effect, but just to fill space. In the process he’s giving little sense of a story beyond the initial concept, something that gets exacerbated because it takes forever to get to the next plot point.

Similarly the music churns in one place and each time through gets a little weaker. The horns start to drone, the piano lines are more scattered, the absence of any additional instrumental contributions are more noticeable.

By the midway point we’re kinda bored with Blues For My Baby and even when Gordon energetically implores the sax to “Blow your brains out!” leading into the instrumental break we get nothing of the sort. What follows is reasonably well played but hardly exciting, not energetic and in no way does it take the song off in a new more interesting direction. It’s nothing more than a variation on the existing theme, sans vocals.

Now to be fair, none of this is particularly bad. Gordon’s delivery is fine while the band, even if at times it appears they’re about to wander off key, never get completely off track and foul things up.

The problem is none of them are giving us anything to really get worked up over. It’s a song that isn’t very interesting thematically and which more or less goes through the motions musically.

Gordon manages to pull it together a little down the stretch, the music becoming more insistent, his vocals taking on more urgency and he’s adding piano trills which close things out in a different fashion than what we’ve been listening to the last two minutes, but it’s not quite enough to completely convince us we’ve heard something truly worthwhile.


Been Away
If this were the only Rosco Gordon song you listened to amidst a hundred other 1952 rock songs, it might stand out a little more, but having just heard a far better song on the other side this just comes across as generic for him.

That’s where we get back to the idea of mixing up your output with different types of approaches, something he has yet to show any inclination of doing, which would allow a record like this to be seen as a peculiar change of pace, rather than the same ol’, same ol’.

In the album era we’d call Blues For My Baby by a term that needs no explanation… “filler”. But in the singles era, even though this is essentially serving the same purpose where it’s nothing more than a reasonably effective reminder of Roscoe Gordon’s musical persona… something we were never in doubt of forgetting… it doesn’t qualify under the usual term used for subpar B-sides – a throwaway.

It’s not nearly as bad as that, but it’s not much more than it either.

Yeah, I guess that means regardless of the format, it’s just filler after all.


(Visit the Artist page of Rosco Gordon for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)