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APOLLO 437; APRIL 1952



We tend to lavish praise on artists who have diverse material. We hold artists who constantly tried new things in the highest esteem. We complain when acts recycle the same idea, the same sound and sometimes the same song over and over again.

Yet when an artist like The Larks come along and show their proficiency in a number of different stylistic approaches, the majority of their records fall on deaf ears, too varied to keep those who preferred each individual type of record happy, so they’re given up on altogether.

That fate – shared by others down the line – is rock ‘n’ roll’s ultimate Catch-22.


Until The Day You’re In My Arms
Okay… I’ll admit, there’s very little else out there in 1952 like this, so maybe the confusion – or was it revulsion – wasn’t hard to see coming, but even though not all of it works, and you’d be hard pressed to say this was representative of the best rock ‘n’ roll of the time, or where you wanted to see the music head in the future, it’s nothing if not fascinating to try and unravel.

Where do we start? The voices, sure, but they sing in multiple ways here which sometimes almost contradict themselves.

The harmonies on the word Darlin’ are sublime. Warm, resonant, soothing, yet a little mysterious and edgy in their delivery, almost as if they’re taunting you from another dimension.

Yet when they sing the bridge in unison they switch to a pop style devoid of emotional gravitas, wimpy and whitebread, threatening to send this off into an entirely different direction.

But they never quite succumb to that possibility, in large part because Eugene Mumford delivers the lead with a breathy halting uncertainty that is far too fraught with tension to ever be acceptable in the pop universe where leads are never allowed to be so ambiguous in their intentions.

Mumford in fact rescues the song in the midst of that pop-styled bridge by taking it from them and shifting it back towards something much more meaningful. The others then take their cue from him when they pick it up again to close that section out and deliver a much more yearning vocal harmony.

Of course what Mumford is singing – the words he himself wrote – are almost transparently thin, intentionally vague and so broad as to cover almost any relationship scenario you could come up with. As a result the singing goes a long way in distracting from the lack of any actual content here. Mumford is merely crushing on someone he’s either separated from, or more likely someone he barely knows and will never get, quite possibly stalking her, yet it’s doubtful that hearing this any judge would grant this girl a restraining order against him, that’s how heartfelt and innocent he sounds.

It’s yet another remarkable performance from one of rock’s best pure vocal talents and aside from the brief flirtation with pop blandness, the support he receives from the other Larks is almost just as good.

Now about the music… well, that’s a bird of a different color.

The One I’ll Always Love
In the early 1960’s an enterprising vocal group fan, or merely a cagey entrepreneur, named Irving “Slim” Rose opened a small record story by the New York City subway which sold used rock vocal group records on 45 RPM.

The place was such a success that he was able to put out new records by groups in this older style and he specialized in acapella recordings – possibly because they were easier to record since you didn’t need musicians and arrangements or the money to pay for musicians and arrangements – but also because the hardcore fans of this style drooled over the beauty of unadorned voices.

You kinda wish one of them had been supervising the session for Darlin’ because this would have been so much better without the pianist who seems to think that he’s auditioning for Mantovani here, playing melodic fills that are not just stylistically out of place, but are completely unnecessary for the song that needs no such accompaniment to work.

Normally instrumental parts are conceived to do one or more of a few standard things: a) set up, carry or embellish the melody, b) establish a rhythm, c) provide an interlude from the singing which is every bit as compelling in its own right, or d) to flesh out a record with some discreet fills here and there.

This arrangement bypasses “c” and “d” when they also should’ve skipped “a” and “d”, or at least the “d” that they attempt to pull off here with inappropriate lines.

The first of those, the responsibility of conveying the melody which they awkwardly try and do, is not needed in the least. The voices do that better than any instrument can on a song like this which is being delivered at a glacier pace, meaning music just gets in the way. It’s the latter device however – the fills – which could’ve been useful here, but because the pianist doesn’t comprehend The Larks’ approach in the least he attempts to tackle it the way you would a more typical pop song, with light creeping melodic progressions on the treble keys that are sappy and ornate and heading nowhere worthwhile.

Because Darlin’ is so pensive and airy sounding to begin with, the only thing you could do to bolster the singing is to play quick block chords with your left hand, adding a bottom to the transitions, but even that would be largely superfluous. A guitar would be a better choice for the fills because they can add far more textures with a minimum of notes, or maybe you’d take a chance with a hazy tenor sax, preferably recorded to sound as if it were coming from an open window, but there’s a lot that can go wrong with that too.

Still it’d be better than this piano which pulls the record closer to pop each time those delicate fingers hit the ivories, playing notes that lightly dance in the candlelight at a club where everybody is in tie and tails.

Whoever is responsible for the arrangement is the one at fault for knocking this record down a point because all they had to do to maximize the song was to strip the instruments altogether, or maybe just leave a drummer using brushes on the cymbals and a standup bass off mic, and leave it at that.


I’ll Wait For You
Would this record, even with those adjustments, have any chance to be a hit?

Not on your life.

It’s too slow, too sparse, too haunting, too… weird… for mainstream acceptance in 1952.

But Darlin’ is also oddly enchanting even with its questionable attributes factored in simply because of the beauty of the voices themselves.

If nothing else it’s a somewhat daring, and thus risky, attempt for a group who were struggling to re-connect with an audience whose attention had been fairly fleeting even for their more straightforward records and that’s something to admire, even if the end result is a little compromised.

This is one of those records that you may not find occasion to play very often but you’re always glad it’s available to play when the mood strikes late one night with hours to go before sunrise.


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