KING 4364; MAY 1950



If the the top side of this single wasn’t quite all it could be thanks to Sonny Thompson’s attempts to sneak a little jazz into his rock instrumental, the criticism was rooted mostly in the slight incompatibility of the two styles which caused it to come across as somewhat misleading.

After all if you came to this dance expecting to grind away with your date in the dark corners it comes as a rather unwelcome surprise when they start waltzing around in the center of the room.

But while this side we’re covering today contains nothing to match the brief high points of the other song, at least Thompson makes his intent perfectly clear from the start, allowing us to basically sit this one out and wait for him to scratch this musical itch before we jump back in for something more suited for the unrepentant rock deviants we are.


Shadows Getting Longer
I’m sure there might be somemany… most who after reading this intro are saying “Well, why DIDN’T we skip it then if we wouldn’t be missing much?”

It certainly makes sense to pass it by if it’s hardly very representative of rock ‘n’ roll circa 1950 and since we’ve already got plenty of Sonny Thompson records under our belts – with many more still to come – and it’s not starting him down a new musical direction in his career, why bother?

All fair points I agree, especially considering this project is going a lot slower than I anticipated, even with the production rate stepped up to six or seven reviews a week as of late. That’s not to say that I thought we’d be close to reviewing Megan Thee Stallion’s latest sides by 2021 on this trawl through rock history but I hoped to be a little further along than mid-1950 by now.

But then again if we don’t cover all this stuff in depth, who will? It’s not like anyone else bothered to lift a finger in the last seventy years to chronicle all of these records. So that means an atypical song that didn’t make a dent in the musical consciousness of the rock audience performed by an artist whose peak is already two years in the rear-view mirror is going to be treated as if… the entire fate of Western Civilization rested on its shoulders!

Well, we might not go quite that far, but we will make the case that maybe just for one quiet night After Sundown could easily be used as background music for a rock fan who was making a futile attempt to impress their date by taking them to a slightly better part of town and as such we’ll try and look at it not as if it was rudely intruding on our territory and more like it was just a temporary diversion to the main narrative of a widely respected artist.

But we’re also covering it because, atypical though it may be in our universe, it’s actually pretty damn good.


The Cool Of The Evening
Whether you want to say this leans more towards small combo jazz or a cocktail blues trio is probably just nitpicking. It fits in either category without much fuss and yet because it’s played by a guy who made his bones in a different genre altogether it allows us to at least get a glimpse of what those concurrently popular styles had to offer just as rock was making both of them far less relevant to the evolution of music now that the Fifties were upon us.

After Sundown is an ideal title for such an excursion, suggesting the right low-key ambiance that this music is aiming for with its languid mellow approach.

All the standard elements are present and accounted for, as over faintly brushed drumming we have piano and guitar intertwining to create a dream-like mood… melodic without being memorably so. There’s no hook, no captivating riff, nor any impressive solos to focus your attention, but even though it’s entirely content to remain in the background of countless conversations in a club, its sudden absence would undoubtedly be noticed because of how well they are at playing discreetly.

That’s a rather odd tribute to pay musicians, telling them they’re good at blending into the scenery, but it’s an appropriate one for the type of setting these songs thrived in where the band’s job was to create an unobtrusive ambiance that shifted often enough over the course of an evening to never be repetitive or uninteresting, but which also was required to take a back seat to the interpersonal relationships that were in the process of being developed in the shadowy tables and bar just beyond the bandstand.

Thompson and company understand this dynamic well and give you something that is pleasing enough to keep your attention if your date gets up to go to the powder room so she can get a breather from your clumsy fawning attempts at compliments, yet fleeting enough to allow you to instantly shift back to your impersonation of someone a lot more suave and cultured when she returns for round two.

Darkness Falls
All of this seems like backhanded compliments for the band, but in fact they’re playing beautifully throughout this. Thompson shows great judgement in his parts, using fewer notes to convey greater depth, all of which is delivered with a light touch that never becomes so sterile that it can’t stir your emotions. It’s discreet, not dainty, and because of this the more focus on it the more you appreciate his melodic instincts as a composer and his skill as a musician.

He’s outdone by the guitarist however who’s almost ghost-like in how he plucks the strings, letting the notes hang in the air like a fine mist in the passing headlights… enough to feel the dampness on your cheek but never so much it’ll make you wet.

His solo comes across as being delivered with any strain or effort at all, almost suggested rather than played, the musical equivalent of seductive whispers in the dark, all of which faintly lingers in the recesses of your own head long after they’ve actually faded.

The arrangement itself is a thing of beauty, almost as if each second… each millisecond even… had been worked out on a computer. The give and take between instruments, the use of pauses, hesitations and pull backs in everything they play and the strict adherence to the belief that each of their roles are merely there to add to the overall atmosphere rather than to draw your attention on their own suggests a remarkable amount of discipline.

In that way After Sundown might be more of a track for musicians to admire than listeners to enjoy in passing. It’s a record that works well enough as the backdrop to a quiet evening to be welcomed in the right environment, but it’s one that almost demands intent scrutiny in a studio to fully appreciate.

And yet… what does either of those things get you in the unruly world of rock ‘n’ roll? Not as much as maybe it should I’m afraid as something this far off the beaten path will never define rock nor influence it in the least, thus making it little more than a pleasant aberration, ill-fitting if not completely irrelevant.

A Long Way ‘Til Morning
At best records like these act as bridges between different – more suitable and more traditional – sounds… however you chose to define that.

In an historical context this takes a little of what was recently so appealing and re-imagines it under the guise of something new and slightly different.

If taken more literally then this song is something that works best when the band is coming off a fifteen minute break after a first set which featured lots of strained and noisy vocals and by using this to open the next set it’d ease you back in to having a live band to listen to again, letting the conversations naturally die down while giving the band’s singer a few more minutes to rest his vocal chords – and recover from any brief extracurricular activities after the hat check girl was seen exiting his dressing room adjusting her skirt.

Ahh well, no matter the setting or the circumstances, as clean and professional sounding as this is… as exquisitely all of its details were worked out for maximum efficiency… After Sundown is still probably bound to be overlooked in places where you go for a shot of pure rock ‘n’ roll narcotics that will send you over the moon and leave you crashing back down to earth in a heap when it leaves your system.

But for that brief moment when you’re content to float in the upper atmosphere, hyper-aware of each particle passing by you with not a care in the world to cause you any concern, this is surely what you’ll be hearing while adrift in that suspended animation even if it’s bound to get drowned out once the tumult and the shouting of reality begins again.


(Visit the Artist page of Sonny Thompson for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)