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Well, one out of two isn’t bad, as they say.

After being surprised and enthused about the radical (for this group anyway) arrangement on the top side of this release, we return to normal with this side… another slow dreamy ballad wherein Sonny Til gets to moan about his always shaky love life.

Yet as tired as we’ve become of these songs all leeching off the same basic prototype over the past four years, what this particular one reminds us is that it’s not necessarily the repetitiveness that bothered us most, but rather the uninspiring contents of so many of them.

This one on the other hand is a few steps above the mundane ingredients they’ve used far too often and so it manages to stand out in a crowd for all the right reasons for a change.


No Moon So Bright
Maybe we shouldn’t try and drag this out for their sake, for who knows if we’ll start turning against it the more time we spend deconstructing it and putting all of the pieces under the microscope to examine all of its flaws.

Suffice it to say what we’re presented with on the surface here is pretty typical for rock’s favorite emotional sad sacks.

From the lovelorn title – When You’re Not Around – to the crawling tempo and the stark vulnerable lead of Sonny Til and the bridge delivered by nasal baritone extrordinaire George Nelson, all of the pieces here come in the same regular intervals as always.

Trains, television programs and the opening and closing of Wall Street each day doesn’t run on such reliable schedules as The Orioles songs do.

But while we have every right to bemoan their lack of adventurism in material and arrangements, what soon becomes obvious is this record is using higher quality parts than most of their output.

Now granted, that’s a loaded thing to say, for at their peak few rock acts have hit the heights of these guys. The top half of this one, How Blind Can You Be, was their eleventh bright green number, those we reserve for records we deem Great or Perfect. That’s pretty damn impressive.

Yet they’ve also gotten more than their share of low numbers too (fifteen of them in fact) thanks to their tendency to plow the same field over and over again.

So if this one yields a better crop than most, maybe we need to take a look at the fertilizer they’re using.

Love Lingers On
The key to the aesthetic success of this song comes down to the smallest of details… the easy flow of the melody.

Rather than be a little clumsy or spotty in the way the notes are strung together, When You’re Not Around glides effortlessly through the changes as Sonny Til’s eases his voice out of the garage and onto the road following a nicely understated guitar lead-in. He’s driving slowly but smoothly along the boulevard with the others riding shotgun, harmonizing in conjunction with a few key instruments that makes this a much more pleasant ride.

Every turn in the road brings us a different scene to admire. The distant saxophone revealing the faintest hint of regret, the faint piano expressing just a bit of curiosity, the stray guitar notes revealing a little restlessness behind the tranquil façade.

Meanwhile the voices themselves rise and fall like a gentle breeze with Alex Sharp’s falsetto caught like a leaf in the air, lazily riding it wherever it may go. Even Nelson finally gets to sing entirely different words during his recitation for the bridge rather than merely duplicating the verses that Til has already delivered, adding more depth to the story than usual.

There’s not much complexity in their parts necessarily, but what’s there is deftly executed all the same, remaining slightly out of focus to give it more ambiance than if it were shoved in your direct line of vision. The rest is up to Sonny Til who’s doing his usual stellar job of showcasing his vocal dual personality.

On one hand what he’s being asked to sing lyrically requires him to have pangs of doubt regarding his love life. Though it sounds as if his girl hasn’t broken up with him, just left for the night, Til is still despondent over even a temporary parting and pushes that feeling to the forefront.

Yet while he’s effective as can be in getting you to believe his resigned outlook (it’s not like he hasn’t had the practice!), he’s utterly confident about calling on the techniques he’s using here to win us over, never overselling the hurt, nor pulling up a little short on the reflective nature of his late night musings.

His light touch takes what otherwise might’ve been a pointless maudlin exercise and turns it into a gentle lullaby for lost souls.


Stars Above
Sometimes, in spite of ourselves, we almost might feel sorry for Jubilee Records who have in their midst the act that ensures their solvency who’ve hit upon a formula that has remarkable commercial staying power, even if it also has become largely tedious and at times overwrought.

If they turn away from this type of material because some of us are bored by their weaker efforts in that area, largely due to the fact we’ve heard it all before, there’s no guarantee that what they replace it with will meet with the same positive response from their core constituency who at least allow them to get a decent return on their investment even in the worst case scenario.

But when they get that tired old formula right, as When You’re Not Around does, the results may not be earth shattering… may not even quite be worthy of scoring a legitimate hit with the song… but it’s more than good enough to legitimately appreciate.

Some might argue the basic components here are barely any much different on paper than similar records we panned, but luckily records aren’t listened to on paper, but rather on turntables – or the modern day equivalent – and in that realm this record does a whole lot better.

The devil is in the details they say, but sometimes so too are the angelic voices that make these kind of efforts all worthwhile.


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