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DECCA 48197; JANUARY 1951



Now it’s starting to get old.

Some artists are like that. They have such a narrow stylistic approach that it’s almost cruel that they’re required to have two songs per single because you need a few months between hearing them to have any chance to appreciate what they have to offer.

Even if we HAD gotten a longer break from hearing them though I’m afraid this time around it might not do them any good.


The Tired Old Moon Is Descending
The topic of their repetitive playbook has come up before around here and it rears its ugly head with this one as well. It’s gotten to the point where calling them a one-trick pony is not an insult but something they were actually striving for, but it makes you wonder how they were able to survive, especially on the road, when every song had the same pace, the same feel and the same structure which means even the good songs would seem to blend in with the bad with nothing to set them apart.

Now let it be said that certain artists in rock were not designed for dancing and The Ray-O-Vacs certainly are the poster boys for performances where the audience remains seated the entire time. They were a nightclub act and I’m assuming that meant food and drinks were served to patrons while they were on stage and people were there to socialize just as much as they were to see the show. As such The Ray-O-Vacs were aural wallpaper – there for customers listen to during lulls in the conversation, something to keep the room from going too quiet and thus allowing you to hear silverware clinking on plates and somebody coughing when a drink went down the wrong pipe.

In that environment noisy acts, whether the wailing voice of Roy Brown or the lusty shouting of Wynonie Harris or saucy strutting of Chubby Newsom would be distracting – in a good way perhaps, but not so much for the joint’s main business. So you had supper club acts like The Ray-O-Vacs, a name band with a few hits who could blend in with the surroundings.

At least that’s the only thing that makes sense because if you got dressed up and paid your way in just to hear them deliver fourteen songs at the same lazy shuffling tempo as Goodnight My Love with Lester Harris sounding as if he just woke from a twelve hour slumber and hadn’t yet cleared his throat or washed the sleep from his eyes, you’d ask for your money back.


How Dreary The New Day Will Seem
Since we’re already pretty much described the record’s attributes – the slow lurching pace, the same vocal cadences and weary tone of Lester Harris, the same bare bones arrangement featuring Chink Kinney blowing a sleepy sax accompaniment – you don’t need that many more details to conjure this up in your mind.

The problem though isn’t just that it sounds so similar to past sides, but that the content itself is just as apathetic as the performance.

Goodnight My Love is ostensibly a sweet farewell between lovers as they part company for the night. Conceptually this is the same situation that Jesse Belvin used in his song with the same title five years down the road, but whereas that one was full of vivid images, beautiful longing vocals and a transfixing melody, this has absolutely none of that.

The melody here is as stark and lifeless as anything you can find. If you play this and randomly skip around the run time you’ll have no clue of where you are in the proceedings because it doesn’t change other than the brief instrumental break. Everything else remains stuck in neutral.

The sentiments being sung are a strange combination of glad and sad. He’s praising her and saying how much he enjoyed their time together – “It was so heavenly holding you close to me/It will be heavenly to hold you again in a dream” – not awful in a greeting card sort of fashion, but Harris doesn’t sound at all HAPPY saying this. There’s no excitement, no yearning, no semblance of a pulse even.

Who knows, maybe his drowsy delivery was an acting job meant to suggest they stayed up past their bedtime fooling around… but, no, he’s this way all the time.

When he switches to expressing sorrow over the hours he’ll have to spend alone until they meet again he at least sounds legitimately downhearted about it, except he sounds no different than he did when he was complimenting her, so if you’re the girl how do you know which to believe?

The cure for this – aside from lots of caffeine for poor Lester – is to just switch up the music and have it start off with more pep as he’s recounting their date, then downshift to a more somber mood as he’s telling her goodbye, closing it out with hope and optimism and a more enthusiastic delivery when he realizes that nighttime is short when you’re asleep and tomorrow they’ll be together again.

Unfortunately by the sound of it though he’s planning to be Rip Van Winkle and won’t wake up for twenty years and she’ll be an old maid by then.

My Moment With You Now Is Ending
In the past The Ray-O-Vacs have countered this tendency with more interesting arrangements but here they’ve fallen under the same spell and sound lethargic and uninspired.

We get the same clicking drums from Harris himself, a few stray notes from the piano and Kinney’s huffing sax keeping time. When he steps out front for the solo your hopes that this might bring Goodnight My Love to life ends as quickly as that thought entered your head as he blows a listless, almost poppish, refrain that borders on jazz… and not the good kind either.

When Harris closes things out by asking his girl to “Remember you’re mine” you get the idea that he’s got to say this a lot to the girls he’s with because there’s nothing memorable about him when he’s this dull and monotonous. After being with him the girl can’t wait to crawl into bed and forget this night ever happened and I’m sure most of his dates could pass him on the street the very next afternoon and not show any sign of recognition.

But if nothing else this record is further proof The Ray-O-Vacs were defined as much by their shortcomings as their periodic successes and to put their work into the proper perspective you occasionally need to suffer through one of these snooze-fests.

They should’ve sold this as an over-the-counter cure for insomnia, because if this record can’t put you to sleep, nothing can.


(Visit the Artist page of The Ray-O-Vacs for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)