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JUBILEE 5079; APRIL 1952



We’ve criticized Jubilee Records owner Jerry Blaine plenty around here for his terrible stylistic instincts when it came to material and for failing to expand his roster to build on the success of his only bankable group, The Orioles, even going so far as to have their lead singer, Sonny Til, record solo records to be released concurrently with the group’s output.

More recently we’ve scratched our head for his embracing odd choices in his label’s arrangements – most recently the pipe organ – for months on end with no sign of any commercial response and we’ve also found time to question his dedication to his record label itself since his primary business – and first love – was as a record distributor instead.

In fact we’ve been so relentless about tearing his decisions to shreds in most reviews on Jubilee’s output that it’s almost definitive proof there’s no afterlife because if so he’d surely be haunting us for our constant childish name-calling at his expense.

But here might be a sign that the first class dupe is starting to wise up as he’s signed a new vocal group from the same state that his first and most successful group came from and did so right at the time when the demand for this brand of rock ‘n’ roll is at an all-time peak.

Okay, so now let’s see how he screws THIS one up!


I Need You Oh So Badly
By now, even if you’re not familiar with the group, you’ve probably guessed that they didn’t hit big. The question though isn’t why – at least not yet it isn’t – but rather the first question is were they a group who MIGHT’VE hit big in 1952?

Well, it’s hard to say. It’s doubtful they could’ve been a game changing act with a succession of huge hits, but stranger things have happened. After all, the nearby Clovers were shaping up to be a bland pop-leaning act when they were coaxed in a new style by Atlantic Records and became the biggest group in rock for the next five years as a result.

Obviously Jubilee Records didn’t have it in them to do that, but they did have a pretty solid bunch of singers to work with as The Marylanders began singing gospel in the mid-1940’s then in 1947 switched to what I supposed you’d call black-pop – influenced by the usual suspects, Ink Spots and Mills Brothers – which was already falling out of style for something more exciting… what’s it called again? It’s right on the tip of my tongue now…

Oh yeah, rock ‘n’ roll.

But as we can see it took awhile for them to get signed to a contract which in retrospect was probably a good thing because between 1947 when rock debuted and 1952 there was huge leaps forward when it came to presentation in vocal groups with many more stylistic wrinkles now having proved successful.

But since Jubilee was home to the second of those original acts, The Orioles, who were still carrying the flag for more modest ballad fare, you wonder what The Marylanders will do with I’m A Sentimental Fool, whether it’ll be to replicate the bare bones sound of their labelmates, or set out for new uncharted territory in order to really stand out.

Well, it looks like they sort of did both at the same time and as we know that doesn’t always have the best track record when it comes to aesthetic or commercial success.

I’ll Still Wear A Smile
Yes, this is a ballad, yes it is also wistful and yearning, and yes you could see it being sung by The Orioles… but not quite like this, which is the one saving grace as well as the one perplexing decision being made regarding the group.

The tinny echo on their vocals.

This was the idea of a Baltimore disc jockey, Bill Franklin, who’d been their advisor of sorts and got them hooked up with Jubilee Records. But while he seems to have mostly been a reliable champion of their careers, he was not someone who knew how to actually MAKE records, only to spin them on the air and they should’ve ignored his “suggestion” as you would a five year old who was telling you how to invest your tax refund.

Though the concept itself isn’t bad, either the technology at the time wasn’t capable of rendering it in a more pleasing fashion, or their engineer was some derelict Blaine had hired on the cheap, and as a result this experiment makes them sound distant and distorted.

The song itself as written is pretty bland, as you might expect with a title like I’m A Sentimental Fool, but as we’ve seen plenty of times a good rock vocal group has the unique ability to bring emotional depth and vibrant arranging touches that heighten the drama simply in how they choose to deliver a song.

Here The Marylanders actually do a surprisingly good job on that. Lead singer Buster Banks has a nice voice, a shimmering fragile tenor that sounds slightly wounded but admirably resilient at the same time. The rest of them blend well behind him with Johnny Paige taking the second lead in two intervals (it’s a strangely written song without a real chorus and sort of doubling up on what would normally be the middle-eight) and is echoed by Banks with a quick bridge to the next stanzas by bass singer Henry Abrams.

The singing throughout this is very effective… on its own. Where it gets derailed is through the use of the echo making it sound murky and almost unintelligible at times.

The guitar of group member Tommy Barnes is similarly dealing with this effect and had they kept it just on that and recorded the vocals dry it would’ve worked much better, giving a haunting feeling in between the lines without impacting the clarity of the voices. Or if they had the used studio effects to achieve a natural echo – singing in a tile-walled bathroom for instance – maybe that would’ve gotten them the sound they were after.

Instead this was done at the board, probably in the moment rather than post-production which prevented it being tweaked until it was acceptable, and as a result it nearly – not quite, but almost – submarines what otherwise is an excellent performance, costing it a point in our grading (if not two) and more importantly probably tanking its chances to be a hit at the time.


And Never Again
In a way you can understand the group’s desire to do something to distance themselves from the competition.

For starters their style, at least on this song, is close to The Orioles and as anyone with ears could tell by the way they kept cutting the same type of songs in the same arrangements for four years running you didn’t want to fall into that trap, especially since The Orioles popularity had been falling fast until they finally shook up their approach rather drastically on Baby, Please Don’t Go.

At other labels they saw the two most distinctive groups, The Dominoes and Clovers, carving out territory that nobody else had yet claimed, each of them sounding fresh and distinctive and so far neither had a rival for their particular approach, making fans wait anxiously for months on end to get more of the same.

But so many other acts, whether it was The Five Keys, Four Buddies or The Swallows who all specialized in pretty ballads, were able to have early hits but then failed to follow them up with big sellers, maybe because for as good as they sang the style itself was too straightforward to stand out, especially with so many other groups featuring that sound appearing on the scene with The Royals being the latest to join that parade.

Heck, The Larks who’d shown they could sing beautiful ballads with the best of them, only scored hits with atypical blues-based vocals, confirming the need to be unique.

So with that in mind you could make the case that The Marylanders were right to look for a way to sell I’m A Sentimental Fool in a different way and franklin may have even been prescient to choose something that had great potential, as The Flamingos would show down the road by making echo almost like an extra voice on their studio sound.

But in order for it to work it has to be done competently by those you’re entrusting with the recording and that’s where The Marylanders should’ve realized that Jubilee Records was the wrong label to have such lofty aspirations.

Once again, though we can’t definitively pin the blame on Jerry Blaine himself, it does seem that any time he is involved in some capacity there’s bound to be trouble.


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