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REGAL 3270; JUNE 1950



After showing absolutely no sign that he possessed any awareness of such vocal qualities as discretion, restraint or moderation when it came to his singing on the top side of this single yesterday, Sammy Cotton dials things down today and takes this song at a more measured pace.

Whether that means the results are helped or hurt by his altered approach however remains to be seen, for when Cotton’s most notable characteristic is his hellbent enthusiasm there’s always a risk that without it he’d have no identifying features at all.


Knocked Me Off My Feet
Actually, the dual methods used to differentiate the sides of this release show perfectly good judgement. Uptempo ravers should be paired with downhearted laments in order to give listeners a distinct choice as well as to limit the possibility that a bad tactical decision when it comes to the style someone uses will effectively kill both sides of the record if they double down on just one misguided approach.

Besides, it’s not as if Cotton’s powerful voice can’t be utilized just as effectively when he’s wringing his heart out and crying over a lost love as when he’s unleashing his horny excitement over a different girl (or maybe the same girl a few weeks or months earlier) as he did on the out of control Cool Playin’ Mama.

If anything, considering that Paul Gayten and the band had their hands full just to keep Cotton from exploding on that cut, it stands to reason that if Heart Full Of Pain can get Cotton to take things a little easier, then Gayten and company will be better able to compliment him with some well-informed musical choices rather than simply being called on to constantly ride the breaks in the hopes he didn’t send them all careening into a ditch.

At least that’s the hope… but until we see some evidence that Cotton is capable of slowing his constantly racing engine down, consider us skeptical.


The Sun Is Rising
This song is a cover of a record that had just been released on Modern by Lil Greenwood (using the name Lillie Greenwood), a very talented singer working with Roy Milton’s band (we haven’t mentioned him in awhile, but he was one of the most crucial pre-rock bandleaders of the mid-1940’s in case you’ve forgotten). In time she’d delve briefly into the outskirts of rock but would later gain most of her acclaim for being Duke Ellington’s vocalist. Here though she’s singing in a brash bandstand style that was suited for Milton’s show and so as a song it makes for an interesting choice for Cotton to tackle.

At least give Gayten credit for having more confidence in Cotton’s ability to handle the requirements of Heart Full Of Pain than we did, for he allows Sammy himself to open the song unadorned, letting him set the measured pace – and perhaps taking Paul off the hook if he insists on ramping things up too much before the band even joins in.

But Cotton seems to accept this tempered game plan without much complaint, his yearning voice approaching full volume without stomping the accelerator or straining at the more controlled tempo. In truth his voice sounds a little bit better when taking things slower as it sets up a strong contrast between the urgency of what he’s saying and the emotional constraints he’s forced to say it with.

This type of song is hardly anything novel. There have been countless records in rock’s first few years with similar themes as this, wherein male singers wail in agony over being dumped by their sweethearts. Few of them delve much into details, fewer still take any responsibility for the rift in the first place, but all of them seem completely distraught over these circumstances and are reduced to grieving in a very public manner to deal with the sadness.

The key to making these kinds of records work therefore rests largely on how convincing the singer is in portraying this state of mind using very similar tactics which leave little room for much variation. It’s a precarious balancing act as they have show they’re in pain without being completely broken by the situation and reduced to merely blubbering and coming across as something to be mocked for their emotional breakdown.

The trick therefore is to take the listener to the brink of despair while hinting at an underlying resiliency that will pull them back from the edge and allow them to regain some dignity, either by the end of the song or presumably soon after it ends. Cotton manages to achieve this thanks to his vocal instincts which constantly urge him to bear down harder rather than pull up short and because he’s got a few lines towards the end of the song that suggest some redemption is imminent.

Some New Thrill Will Come Around
Whereas yesterday it was Gayten who tried – and succeeded for the most part – in steering the runaway train into the station despite Cotton’s insistence on shoveling more coal into the engine, today Gayten takes a back seat to Sammy and chooses simply to enjoy the more leisurely ride.

The backing track for Heart Full Of Pain is pretty straightforward, largely without any frills and as a result very effective in an understated way. Gayten is content with providing a simple and direct accompaniment featuring gently moaning, rhythmically swaying horns for the bulk of it broken up by Gayten’s own stabbing piano to heighten the dramatic payoffs of each line. It works without drawing attention to itself, keeping the mood consistent while allowing Cotton the privilege of taking the spotlight with his moments of intense anguish.

Where Gayten does turn up the heat is in the instrumental break as he gives the saxophonist (perhaps Hank Mobley, the new tenor in the latest incarnation of his band) a burning solo, one that keeps an appropriate pace but which contains no shortage of intensity as he spirals upward with increasing fervor before winding it back down to return us to the same starting point.

The band and Cotton, who strained against one another on Cool Playin’ Mama, are very compatible here, both contributing equally to the mood and content to let one another shine in their own well-chosen spots. None of this is exactly praiseworthy unto itself – it should be expected in professional units naturally – but considering the push and pull dynamic between them on something designed to be more frantic it’s nice to see that when it came to material calling for a more subdued attack they all had the self-control and discipline to stick to the script and remain headed in the right direction.

My Life’s Just Beginning
The measured enthusiasm for this performance might very well be simply a matter of which sequence we encountered the two sides of the single.

By starting with the one that threatened to veer out of control it makes the controlled intensity of Heart Full Of Pain seem like noteworthy progress in Sammy Cotton’s development even though were you to reverse the two sides and start with this you might not be as impressed and conversely think a little more of Cool Playin’ Mama when you’re hit with the fusillade of wild energy it presents in contrast.

But to be fair, for all of his limitations Cotton does have an admirable commitment to his material, both slow and fast, and while this record may have some hard-to-disguise drawbacks – a few garbled lyrics, some fairly rote concepts – it’s never anything less than well-executed by everyone involved (Greenwood’s original is very good in its own right, if you’re interested in a different stylistic approach).

So while this record is hardly anything to get excited about, it’s good enough to be worth keeping an eye on the one who made it in the hopes that he learns the right lessons from his mixed bag results of his debut and takes the appropriate steps to tighten things up in the hopes he can at least stick around for awhile.


(Visit the Artist page of Sammy Cotton for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)