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OKEH 6843; NOVEMBER 1951

 
 

 

One of life’s most unenviable tasks is dealing with issues you’d like to avoid.

Though it may be necessary at times, it’s often painful, or at least rarely enjoyable, even though doing so can be productive and allow you to better understand things you’ll need to know right around the bend.

So it is with this record, a pop leaning song which is backed by another pop leaning song by rock’s very first vocal group who are increasingly venturing outside of strict rock ‘n’ roll material while they try and navigate their uncertain future.

As a result we’re left with two choices… either ignore both sides and skip over an important change in The Ravens career, or cover something that is almost entirely inappropriate for this project just to keep these birds in our sight.

We chose the latter and hope that – as with anything you really don’t want to face – you may just get something out of it in the end.
 

 
Stairway To Stardom
The Ravens were already on the move from their year long stay at Columbia/OKeh Records, having signed recently with Mercury Records for whom they’ll try and get back in the commercial good graces of the public.

But OKeh still had material they cut ready to go and they sure weren’t about to let it go to waste and so they issued two well sung but entirely inappropriate songs in the hopes that the group’s lingering name recognition would be enough to pay for its costs.

Listening to both sides that may have been overestimating their fan base’s commitment to them, because while both feature the incomparable Jimmy Ricks on lead, the material is skewed so drastically to an older audience that the fans who made The Ravens such stars in rock ‘n’ roll are inevitably going to be disappointed when they hear both sides.

On the surface the flip, That Old Gang Of Mine, might have more notable rock-like attributes than this one, simply because it’s a little more briskly paced, but in fact that’s what drags it farther away from rock because the differences stand out more when you’re sizing up one song at that tempo from another. The backing vocals are squarely in the pop realm and the instrumental track is as well, making it notable only for Ricky’s sublime vocalizing.

The same can’t be said – entirely anyway – for Everything But You, as it’s a ballad which means we tend to be a little more forgiving when it comes to the musical accompaniment than on faster cuts. Furthermore the structure of the slow songs means the backing vocals have more focus on harmony than complex parts and so, while the overall product is certainly not firmly in the rock genre, it’s going to be able to use Jimmy Ricks’s soulful lead as the key to get in the door.

Once inside though, the record is on its own.
 


 
 

A Story To Tell
The pop horn section that opens this renders virtually any claim this has to rock qualifications invalid. That those horns provide a constant sweetening behind the vocals isn’t helping matters any and the piano is so obsequious as to be an added hindrance.

The other Ravens are largely window dressing here, warm and inviting at their best when using wordless harmonizing to bolster the track, but when they try and make their presence a little more noticeable and head into the open-throated technique for the higher range it veers into pop territory as well.

But two things pull Everything But You out of the irrelevant category, the first of which is the composition itself which is a well-crafted musing about a guy who’s deprived of happiness, despite all of his material possessions and career accomplishments, because he doesn’t have the woman of his dreams.

These types of stories making up a voluminous chapter in The Great American songbook are nice to listen to when you’re with the one you love. That’s when they become bittersweet reminders of a past self, someone who overcame that predicament and found romantic fulfillment with a person they’re supposed to be with, and so songs like this serve as a gentle reminder to never take that good fortune for granted.

Since you’re probably swaying with the one you love while listening, or laying in each other’s arms on the couch, there’s no emotional risk involved with revisiting those feelings from a safe distance.

But for those who are still longing for someone they can’t quite grasp, who see the person of their dreams slipping away, or perhaps not even coming into view in the first place, these songs can be emotionally devastating, wringing your soul dry with each listen.

Jimmy Ricks caters to both perspectives in his reading, which is the other thing which makes this record more than its shaky stylistic framework would suggest. Ricky’s melancholy delivery, drawing out the lines in aching fashion as if each word is causing him more distress, is so authentic that you’d be excused if you thought he was pining away for somebody in his own life as the recording session took place.

Yet he adds just a bit of hope to this when he drops down into his most seductive tone, reminding us – and surely trying to remind the girl he’s addressing – why he’s not counting himself out and that he still believes he’s in the running when it comes to winning her over.

That’s always the attitude to have of course and so when he closes this out with a more vibrant demeanor it allows the listener wallowing in their own sorrow to think that maybe they too will have a brighter tomorrow.
 


 

Now There’s Nothing More
As good as Jimmy Ricks is during his best stretches, there are still some unsettling concessions to pop mentalities which taint his performance as well, and with so many of the other components of this record skewing in that direction we obviously can’t judge it as generously as we would if it were a history of pop records, or all music regardless of genre.

Yet Everything But You is definitely a solid effort purely from a musical standpoint and if you remove the classification of records from the equation you’d probably add two points to the final tally here because its pop attributes wouldn’t be a drawback in the larger field.

But that’s not what we do here and as a result it has to be evaluated in the context of music more appropriate, exciting, impactful and influential pure rock records where it can’t possibly fare as well.

It’s not quite all that The Ravens would see released on OKeh, but their final single in February of 1952, the novelty offering Calypso Song backed with Mam’selle, isn’t going to make the cut here as they unfortunately chose the less rocking version of the latter song, where the drums and sax are downplayed rather than slightly more lively unreleased take on it.

That wouldn’t have made much difference truthfully, as any way you look at it The Ravens stint on OKeh Records, a group they surely felt would be validating their rock credentials as a label, winds up largely being a creative disappointment.

The guys could still sing as well as ever, but with them it was never their abilities which were in question, only their direction.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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