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A month ago we were introduced to Sylvia Vanterpool, a woman who would be a force on the rock scene well into the 1980’s, and while her initial sides were a strange mix of polite pop and hybrid rock cut alongside veteran jazz trumpeter Hot Lips Page, she proved at 15 years old that she was already capably adapting her approach to the circumstances.

On this last side from her first session however the circumstances will be forced to adapt to her.


So Tired Of Waiting
With a mix of jazz vets and rock futurists behind her there may not have a clear cut game-plan when running this down before the tapes rolled, but it’s clear who won out if there was any debate over how to handle it.

The girl on the microphone.

Page is sitting out both this and the more pop oriented flip, thus explaining why Vanterpool (as she’s still spelling it) gets the full artist credit, but she earns it for more reasons than simply the scaled back personnel involved as following a horn vamp René Hall’s guitar sets a promising vibe with a slinky little lick leading into Sylvia’s stop-time vocal intro which rivets your attention. Her voice itself is youthful without being childish, but her delivery hints she’s got experience in life without being her exaggerating it artificially in order to put that more mature image across. It’s a good acting job in other words, embodying the role of a would-be seductress without parodying it.

Unfortunately at times she’s undercut by some of the band, as following that effective lead-in the horns ease back too much and cut the legs out from under her. But she’s not to be deterred, hopping back up and charging forward without looking back and Hall takes the cue and catches up to her, determined to lend her the support she requires and from there on in Sharp Little Sister sheds most of its old-school mentality and lets the kids take over.

Though Harry Van Walls is the other rock stalwart sitting in on this session, it’s not him who provides the secondary kick this needs to work, but rather saxophonist Seldon Powell who deviates from what was surely expected out of him and starts honking away during the break, kicking things off slow as Henderson Chambers’ trombone almost seems to assume he’s going to take things easy, but gradually Powell starts increasing his fervor until he’s just riffing on one note like a madman and the others drop out – in shock and awe or in disgust we don’t know.

From there he begins squealing to the heavens before dropping back down into a sultry groove that makes no apologies for its lack of decorum, ensuring that some higher-up at Columbia spit out his dentures in horror upon hearing the end results.


You Better Hurry
Though the song is definitely more ribald in its lyrical content than Columbia was used to selling, it doesn’t have quite enough “oomph” to drive this home in the manner its star would benefit from.

The basic premise is fine, Sylvia’s portraying a horny but frustrated girl who’s attempting to get her man – or some man, maybe it doesn’t matter who – to give her what she craves. But while it makes pretty clear its intent from the start, the means with which she’s trying to get a response probably wouldn’t work if she merely wrote the lyrics down and sent it to her fella via letter… unless he was in a men’s prison and then she probably wouldn’t need to write more than a hastily scrawled heart with an arrow through it to spur a mass breakout.

The first stanza is particularly unsatisfying – “waiting for the fattening hen”? – and while Sharp Little Sister improves from there, much of the effectiveness comes from Sylvia’s reading of it rather than the lines themselves, which only bring us to the brink of raciness without crossing into anything truly objectionable.

Still, while it might be pulling its punches a little, it’s not cloaking them in frilly lace and trying to distract you from their underlying meaning, which is progress for a release on a major label I suppose.

The best line within the song also shows how careful they were to skirt the edge of obscenity without offending anybody as she starts off full of fire claiming ”I’m round in the middle, broad at the top” giving you every reason to expect a payoff that will knock your socks off but instead they settle for the rather unsatisfying, “Please love me pretty daddy or I’ll blow my natural mop”, an image which leaves something to be desired.

But what Sylvia understands already is that even when the lyrics don’t go quite far enough, you can get a few more miles out of them by opening up the throttle and building speed and then when the composition itself runs out of gas you’re traveling along at a nice enough clip to coast to the finish line.

Won’t Be Late
It’d be unfair to call this a compromised record, even though technically speaking it may be just that, at least in terms of fulfilling the promise the song lays out on the page.

Yet even when the older musicians don’t fully comply with the mindset of the singer, they don’t quite get in the way or clash with her and as there’s three willing accomplices here in Hall, Van Walls – who is hammering away down the stretch – and that gutsy 12 bar solo by Powell, that’s more than enough to compensate for a few missed opportunities left by the others.

The rest is all Sylvia Vanterpool, selling the song – and herself – with the chops of a seasoned pro, fully understanding the perspective that needs to be highlighted in order to put this across with the proper audience.

Unfortunately it was an audience that Columbia Records remained oblivious to – not to mention condescending towards and dismissive of – for decades thereby ensuring that their latest opportunity to move firmly into the rock market faded as soon as Sharp Little Sister was given the cold shoulder by their marketing department and distributors.

In retrospect it’s not what they failed to do that is the story here, the fact they couldn’t see the future staring them right in the face was to be expected after all, but what’s so surprising is that this record came out on this label at this time in spite of that ignorance as to what was shaping the future.

That a 15 year old girl from Harlem was responsible for it was equally surprising maybe, but once you heard her strut her stuff with confidence you could hardly be surprised at anything she accomplished down the road.


(Visit the Artist page of Sylvia Vanderpool for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)