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We tend to think of good singers as being a natural fit for whatever style they choose to pursue.

A jazz singer, a blues singer, an opera singer, a folk singer and a rock singer all have attributes that are suited for their respective genres and while their voice doesn’t change if they move to another field, we generally assume they’ll be far less comfortable trying to adapt their strengths to a different brand of music.

In many cases this may in fact be true. It’s doubtful Howlin’ Wolf’s style would translate well to Appalachian folk songs any more than Dolly Parton would be at ease singing reggae.

But if two styles that seem diametrically opposed on the surface are found to have some shared attributes that can be adapted and if the singers attitudes in performing both styles are sincere and the effort is made to conform rather than to resist, then there’s no reason why a country gospel group can’t sing a brand of urban rock ‘n’ roll if they put their minds to it.


Don’t Know What Kind Of Things He Caught Me In
Right around the corner another gospel group would make the same type of transition as The Four Barons (ie. The Larks), even winding up at the same label (Apollo) when the dust settled.

But whereas The “5” Royales basically just substituted secular lyrics for spiritual ones, keeping the same gospel frameworks and vocal approach intact, The Four Barons/Larks sounded completely different when they tackled these first two rock songs than what they’d been doing elsewhere.

The fact that they recorded sides for four different labels on the same day under various aliases allows us to see how different their approach was. On gospel sides they’re singing in a jubilee style that was common then, harmonizing in double time as the lead testified accompanied by their own acoustic guitar and maybe some light percussion, but most of the rhythm is found in their voices. It’s really good stuff if you can find it.

But on the rock sides like Got To Go Back Again they abandoned that style completely in favor of something far more modern. It may be have been out of necessity, for the jubilee style was not nearly as adaptable as the straight emotional gospel style of The “5” Royales, but they showed they instinctively knew how to pull this new technique off and make it seem as though they’d been singing this brand of music for years.

While their comfort level with the job requirements on a technical level more than suffice, unfortunately on this side the same can’t quite be said about the topic they choose to tackle.

Don’t Ask No Questions
Sometimes music that tackles timely real world issues provide a good way to assess the attitudes of a nation when looking back at the mix of fear and hope that embodied World War Two or the anger and protest of the Vietnam era.

But these kinds of songs always run the risk of quickly being out of date and losing whatever intrinsic value they held for the generation they were made for who were immersed in those subjects at the time.

Admittedly this is a problem only when the modern perspective is largely unaware of the context. Certain major events are not affected by this, as the popular sentiments that existed during World War Two and Vietnam have been so thoroughly documented that nobody today could be completely unaware of them. Likewise the feelings surrounding the Civil Rights era or more recently enduring the megalomaniacal antics of a buffoon in the highest office in the land… will still be widely known a century later and thus the perspectives in songs that refer to those events will be easily understood.

Not so with the Korean War.

Other than being the setting for the long-running TV show M*A*S*H the American involvement in Korea from 1950-1953 is generally referred to as the forgotten war. There was no great objective and thus no moral duty to support it and coming so soon after their emotional reservoir was drained by a global conflict of truly epic proportions it was understandable that Americans weren’t ready for investing their sons, their money and their concerns in another costly battle on the other side of the globe.

As a result the theme of Got To Get Back Again was never going to have the same appeal at the time or in the year since.

Try To Understand
All of that is too bad because this starts off great with a piano intro that acts like the connective tissue for countless vocal harmony records of the Fifties and as the group comes in with a wordless soaring line you (in the present for sure, but maybe even at the time) can see tomorrow emerging.

It falters somewhat though when David McNeil enters and takes the lead. It’s plainly obvious their aim was to replicate the bass leads of Jimmy Ricks of The Ravens, still the dominant figure in the vocal group scene, but McNeil is missing the playfulness of Ricky that made his parts such a joy.

Granted the subject matter here, about a soldier on leave having to return to his base and go halfway around the world to be shot at for a pittance, likely wouldn’t make anyone upbeat, but therein lies the problem. The vocal structure is designed to be somewhat happy but the sentiments are kind of a downer.

They try and play up the absurdity of the situation, mocking Uncle Sam for interrupting his rendezvous with a girl, but the lines themselves are almost too precise and thus too awkward to draw any smiles. Try singing along to this and you’ll realize how stilted it all is which probably shows their inexperience as songwriters more than anything.

The vocals themselves are decent enough but for the most part they aren’t anything we haven’t heard before done slightly better by others. I suppose that for a jubilee styled gospel group with no prior experience in singing rock ‘n’ roll however it’s fairly impressive they don’t fall over themselves at some point, but then again they don’t give you credit for remaining upright in life so there’s only so much credit that can be bestowed on them for sounding reasonably comfortable.

Change My Mail
This is one of those records that is more interesting to contemplate the goings-on of the group and the various record companies they were cutting songs for over the course of one long day under various aliases and in different styles.

Regent Records was the only stop at which they laid down rock ‘n’ roll, the other three companies got their usual gospel output. Was this change done at the request of the label or were they simply curious as to whether they could get a company interested in something that was outside of their normal fare?

Then at their last stop of the day they were laying down more gospel sides for Apollo Records until their owner, Bess Berman, found out about their duplicity from someone who’d been in that same studio earlier in the day when the group were recording under different names for Jubilee Records, a bit of information that caused her to become more determined to sign them to an exclusive contract, but not as a gospel act, despite that being Apollo’s most successful field, but instead she wanted them to sing rock ‘n’ roll.

Just how on earth did Berman even know these guys had a way with rock ‘n’ roll without having heard Got To Get Back Again or other songs in this idiom they’d put to wax across the river in New Jersey earlier that day?

Whatever the answer to those questions may be, the end result was the same… when next we meet them they’ll have a new permanent name, The Larks, and be performing rock ‘n’ roll exclusively for the time being and this side of their debut under a different name for a different label will be a mere footnote in that much bigger story.


(Visit the Artist page of The Larks for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)