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One of the things that everybody falls prey to at one time or another but which eats at them after all is said and done is going down without a fight.

Looking back at your decisions in a moment of truth and realizing your didn’t step up and take matters more seriously is something that can drive you crazy as time goes on. It’s one thing to come up short when you’ve given it your best shot but it’s another thing entirely to never throw a punch.

Smilin’ Smokey Lynn it seemed not only didn’t throw a punch in trying to keep his career afloat, he didn’t even bother getting off the stool in his corner when the bell rang.


Beggin’, Cryin’, Pleadin’
If you want to save time on this review, just go back and read the previous entry where we criticize Smokey Lynn, Bill Harvey and anyone else associated with Leave My Girl Alone, a good song given a flat treatment by singer and band alike.

We hate repeating ourselves but things are no different on this side.

Well, actually that’s not entirely true, the flip side was well-written whereas Straighten Up Pretty Baby is generic by nature… which is probably fitting since the vocals and musical arrangement are also generic giving us an uninspired trifecta in Lynn’s latest attempt to remain a viable figure in rock circles.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re hardly unlistenable here, all involved are capable performers at least… Lynn is singing in key at least, the band is on their marks and the song’s melody is so familiar you surely won’t be alone if you start singing different lyrics over it. But there’s a difference between basic competency – which they show – and actually being compelling, which they aren’t and ultimately that’s this record’s greatest failure, a lack of ambition.

Change This Thing You Do
Way way back in the spring of 1949 we first met Smokey Lynn as the featured vocalist on trumpeter Don Johnson’s exhilarating State Street Boogie in which Lynn cut loose with a deep throaty growl on one of the better records of that period, leaving us with high hopes for his subsequent career.

The flip side however was an instrumental on which the singer obviously did not appear but soon after he got another release on Specialty Records, and another rousing – if more unfocused – single called Run, Mr. Rabbit, Run.

Unfortunately that song, though credited to Lynn, was actually sung by Larry Costello.

Thus the two sides in Lynn’s catalog with the most visceral appeal both featured someone with a deeper tone of voice than Lynn has shown since leading us to wonder if he actually was the guy behind the microphone on his singular stellar achievement to date.

Maybe he was, as there are other unreleased sides under his name that feature a more robust singing voice than he shows on Straighten Up Pretty Baby but if they both ARE Smilin’ Smokey Lynn, one has to ask why the hell these record labels are allowing him to use the voice that is pleasantly nondescript rather than one that might actually grab your attention.

One thing’s for sure, nothing about this song has that capability. It’s decidedly modest in its objectives and not surprisingly it’s modest in its achievements as well.

The horns are tired, wheezing their way through the most basic of changes. The rhythm is faint, the beat is largely absent and the singer sounds lethargic for the most part. Even when he’s imploring his woman to change her ways, laying out her offenses for us to judge, he comes across as whining in frustration rather than asserting himself and staking claim to his rights as an equal partner in this relationship.

His most emphatic declaration is little more than a weary plea and as such you can’t really find much sympathy for him. Maybe he IS being treated badly, but if that’s the case she clearly isn’t going to change just because he begs her to, so the only option left is to leave her. Instead he makes US suffer for her transgressions by bitching about it at length.

Furthermore the structure of the song, or at least of the vocal line, subverts the melody to try and inject more urgency with a stop-time delivery that undercuts the song’s effectiveness even more. It’s not that such an approach can’t conceivably work, but rather it can’t realistically be carried off with someone whose vocal chords seem to be lacking any gravity.

What we need is the guy we heard two years ago who had a resonant voice and a larynx made of much stronger sinewy fiber than this lightweight singer and without wanting to start an entire conspiracy theory, the fact they’re sharing the same name is hardly convincing enough to be sure they’re one in the same.

All This Mess Has Got To End
Whatever our doubts regarding Smilin’ Smokey Lynn’s perplexing career, we’re still duty bound to deal with each record as they’re presented to us and judge them on their own merits, not on any wild speculation as to his oddly changing singing voice.

So with that in mind we can safely say that with what he’s shown us on Peacock Records over the last year Lynn is nothing more than a journeyman… something that was actually the widely shared opinion of him at the time as evidenced by his lack of a long term contract with any company who surely would’ve snatched up someone who had the potential “he” showed with his first offering.

Straighten Up Pretty Baby doesn’t change that impression in the least. He WAS a journeyman talent… good enough to deliver a song in a reasonably agreeable manner, yet not good enough to ever transcend those minimal expectations.

He may not be helped by having a band that is lacking in power and conviction themselves, but even if they were more aggressively skilled it would probably just make Lynn’s faults all the more noticeable by comparison. At least here he and the band are both equally lacking which in a perverse way almost makes their limited abilities seem slightly more acceptable, fooling you just enough with their lack of glaring weaknesses to get you to think they’re a little more accomplished than they really are.

But even if this record is something you don’t mind hearing, it’s not something that anyone with a deeper appreciation of rock of this era would gravitate towards on their own and for somebody whose career as a recording artist was hanging in the balance, you’d think that alone would be enough to make him put forth more of a fight than he shows here.


(Visit the Artist page of Smilin’ Smokey Lynn for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)