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RPM 350; MARCH 1952



It’s always nice to see an artist with a distinctive style step outside that box from time to time, just to show they’re capable of giving you something a little different.

Chances are it won’t be as galvanizing as their primary musical approach, especially when what they’re famous for is so utterly unique, but if nothing else mixing things up will allow their hit records to stand out more.

But as out-of-character B-sides go, this one doesn’t have to simply point to how it deviates from the norm in order to draw your interest, it can stand on its own two feet just fine.


You Are Mine
Everybody knows that James Brown invented funk.

The usual D.O.B. is 1964 when he came out with his lone hit on Smash Records called Out Of Sight during the time when he was feuding with Syd Nathan and left King Records because he thought he had found a contractual loophole.

The record was… well, to use the obvious description, it was a smash… and Nathan realized that he had to patch things up and get Brown back in the fold.

Anyway, the basic blueprint of funk was that he stripped down the melody to its boxer shorts, eliminated chord changes and treated every instrument like it was a drum with harsh staccato rhythms churning throughout the record.

We’re not going to dispute that… however, there were a number of rock records that came before it that were funky in many of the same ways, albeit nowhere near as potent or as direct and Maria by Rosco Gordon unquestionably qualifies as funky.

Even so it’s not entirely original. It’s got a call back to Johnny Otis’s work on Joe Swift’s That’s Your Last Boogie from 1948, just as there’s a palpable similarity to future mid-50’s sides by Marvin & Johnny in the vocals.

That loose thread which connects a variety of eras makes this record sound instantly familiar and yet – at least when it comes to Gordon’s catalog – decidedly singular as well.


Do You Love Me?
Nobody would likely call Rosco Gordon a first rate vocalist using traditional measures. His range is narrow, his tone is dry, scratchy and strained and he usually is staggering around the melodic elements like somebody who is double jointed in his knees and ankles.

Yet here he lets himself go, wailing away in the best bel canto tradition, confident he has the voice for such a performance even in the face of dissent from every corner.

But that’s precisely what makes Maria so engaging. He’s fearless in his choices and while they don’t all pay off in a technical sense, he manages to connect in more abstract ways, convincing you of his abiding love for this girl simply by how open he is in proclaiming it.

That uninhibited desire… not pure lust, yet not quite romantic love either… is evident in each line. He’s infatuated more than anything and it sounds as if his brain is overloaded with all sorts of stimuli, from her visual beauty to his own fantasies about what it’d be like to be with her. Somehow, even as his grip on the melodic elements becomes more tenuous, he never quite loses sight of what he’s trying to accomplish.

Unlike so many starry-eyed guys Gordon doesn’t come across as a hapless dupe, too blind to see he’s the subject of scorn or pity. Yet at the same time he remains blissfully unaware of how close he’s veering into obsequiousness with his behavior.

It’s a delicate balancing act, especially for someone who sounds as if he might be a little buzzed, but he never slips up. His sincerity wins you over and of course it certainly doesn’t hurt that the arrangement is quirky enough on its own to distract you any time his eagerness appears on the verge of overwhelming you.

What makes this so damn catchy though are those interlocking rhythms. The drums are most prominent, just playing a basic shuffle with a little hitch at the end which corresponds roughly with what the horns are doing. Their huffing lines may be decidedly simple but the pattern they stick to, with its noticeable pause in it, like a swimmer turning their head to get air, grounds the track. They’re slightly out of sync with the drums which gives it the crocheting effect that is further accentuated by the piano which is merely adding off-center fills for most of it.

Even the instrumental break is nothing more than the same basic pattern with Gordon’s vocals removed and the piano more prominent allowing you to appreciate the ringing tone on the treble keys.

You wouldn’t necessarily be wrong to call it sloppy, but when it’s sloppy by design it becomes infectious as there’s a joy in the singing and playing that is hard to resist.

Everything about this works in spite of itself. That funky vibe it gives off, Gordon’s faux ad-libs along the way that reveal themselves to actually be carefully constructed when he starts calling to her from the shadows in the fade, the way the entire record seems to be teetering on the edge of disaster without ever succumbing, makes this a fascinating example of artistic creativity.


I Shine Like Gold
There are some artists from the distant past who still have a fair amount of name recognition because of the way their biggest hits have shaped rock through the years but the depth of their music beyond that has more or less been lost to time.

Rosco Gordon is shaping up to be one of those guys.

Now to be fair the hits are still the most impressive cuts we’ve heard so far, but as Maria shows the flip sides are often nearly as good and, in this case anyway, possibly even more interesting to study his musical concepts taking shape.

Depending on what you want to focus on here you might uncover lots of little similarities to sounds that seem on the surface far removed from the time and place Gordon conceived and cut this record, be it some New Orleans spices in the horns or vague island rhythms under the surface, to say nothing of his unexpected tonal shifts and melodic embellishments along the way.

This might not be his most innovative idea outright, nor will it have the same historical resonance as his more acclaimed sides, but in terms of creative expression this one is surprisingly hard to beat.


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