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They may just be an addendum to the far more prolific and important career of The Ravens, where Maithe Marshall rose to fame before breaking off to start this group of unrelated “siblings”, but that doesn’t mean their musical choices weren’t in some way a reflection on his earlier work with rock’s most groundbreaking group of the 1940’s.

With different personnel, perhaps a different image they wanted to create, these records were never going to match the commercial pull of those from his last stop but it may just give even more insight as to where his heart was…

Or in this case where his wallet was.


Now Hold Everything
There can be no denying that the voice Maithe Marshall possessed was special.

An etheral high tenor that seemed to float like a cloud in the sky, he’d provided The Ravens with the counterpoint to their primary draw, profundo bass Jimmy Ricks, the two extremes providing their records with an unusual balance that allowed them to stand out no matter what competition arose.

Marshall got his share of leads with them too, so his deparature wasn’t simply a case of being overshadowed and frustrated at not getting more opportunity. It’s just that his opportunities to take the lead didn’t result in any hits.

The songs with him in the forefront were pop-slanted ballads, well sung but emotionally weightless compared to the more evident rock sides, and as a result while they definitely had their partisans, they were not the driving force behind The Ravens success or influence.

But now that he’s on his own in a group named for him – there was no brother.. or sister for that matter – we seemed reasonably assured to get a full dose of Maithe Marshall. His tastes, his ideas, his songs, his leads.

Rather than deviate much from his established persona though, he more or less stuck with the same lighter fare, eschewing the deep emotional gravitas that most of the balladeers in rock vocal groups had taken up in his wake. As a result Savoy Records surely could see the writing on the wall from the start… pleasant though songs like Why Make A Fool Out Of Me on the flip side may be, unassuming supper club pop songs were not going to sway rock fans in 1952.

So what were they to do? Throw in the towel altogether? Force him to sing in a style that he was not comfortable with? Or try and artificially replicate The Ravens sound by letting The Marshall Brothers’ bass singer Raymond Johnson get a more appropriate lead on the flip side, Just A Fool In Love, a song that he himself wrote no less.

Maybe poor Maithe Marshall might not like this compromise, but it was better than being out of work and crawling back to The Ravens asking for his old job back.

I Think We Can Get Along
It should go without saying – but we’ll say it anyway just so there’s absolutely no uncertainty about the entire premise of this record – Raymond Johnson may be a very good bass singer, but he is no Jimmy Ricks.

That’s not an insult, but there was only one man on earth with the pipes to reach those startlingly low notes with such resonence, melodic touch and distinct character and that was Jimmy Ricks himself.

But as imitators go, Johnson’s not all that bad and since he wrote Just A Poor Boy In Love you have to assume he’s playing to his own strengths here with a languid delivery that projects a resigned sadness over his lack of money and how that impacts his relationship.

Now the odd thing is, Raymond has GOT the girl of his dreams who ditched her “rich Joe” to be with him instead, yet Johnson sounds positively down in the dumps over his lack of funds. It’s a defeatist attitude, one surely not shared by many in the audience who either don’t have the money or the girl, or if they have one, they figure the other may be within their grasp too.

Yet Johnson sounds very good here, the melody is slow but catchy and the lyrics, including the roll call of cars his former rival drives, is pretty memorable as well. The rest of the group are audible, but indistinct in the background and with no tempo changes, nor any instrumental break and a rather subdued bridge, a lot is riding on Johnson’s tonsils to hold out.

They do that well enough, and he adds a lot of character with his sad-sack delivery, but this remains a strange song with its conflicting perspectives – happy over the outcome but dejected over his feeling it somehow is unearned – rather than a compelling one and with it’s slight throwback feel it struggles to fully win you over, even with its limited stakes.

Food And Rent
What’s really interesting here is that on their second single for Savoy the company already made the decision that it wasn’t Maithe Marshall who was the biggest draw, even though the other side was written by Savoy producer Lee Magid specifically to highlight Marshall’s skills.

As The Ravens had found out themselves the pop leaning songs Marshall specialized in may be fine to draw some praise from mainstream music outlets there was no real commercial benefit to focusing on them. While undoubtedly it also helped them get some classier bookings along the way since those patrons would be less offended by his crooning than Jimmy Ricks’ lustful performances, their “gimmick” – at least to white patrons – were those lustful performances and so Marshall was merely the interlude.

On his own the style that he gravitated towards was not going to cut it and so we get a halfway decent, but still subpar, Ricky-inspired Ravens knock-off with Just A Poor Boy In Love, thereby reducing Marshall to the same ignominious supporting role he felt he’d left behind.

Somebody really needed to tell him that he probably had just two choices left… either forsake all Ravens-imitations and go out as a solo act with little name recognition, playing small clubs with little chance at breaking through on record… or give in and

Just a few months after leaving his old group that decision already had proven to be a mistake and now he could be stubborn and sink his career even more by going out as a solo act with little name recognition playing small clubs as a straight pop singer, or he could swallow his pride and cut some racier uptempo songs like this, except give himself a bigger role in them.

Better yet, he could go back to the nest he had left and submit to the status quo.


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