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On the surface music seems to be comprised of relatively few major components – melody, lyrics, vocals and instrumentation – but within those elements are countless potential variations that can make or break a record’s chances to make a good impression.

Sometimes when one of those aspects falls short it’s not hard to see where things went wrong while other times one thing may still be lacking but the sum of the rest of the parts more than compensate.

Here though the problem isn’t what’s missing, but rather what’s included, as in a little too much for it’s own good, as this is a record that’s decent enough but could’ve been a lot better had they just trimmed it down some.


All The People Keep Sayin’…
When you have a producer who oversees a band that’s stacked with talent, not to mention a vocal group with five strong voices all looking to be heard, there’s going to be a tendency to do too much rather than too little and so you can understand Johnny Otis overreaching just a little to keep everybody happy.

But with the number of tracks the Otis conglomerate was putting out this year under so many different lead artist credits the excuse of wanting to get everybody a moment in the spotlight on one two and a half minute single doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Yet in spite of having so many competing ideas that prevent any one of them from standing out much You’re Fine But Not My Kind still manages to work well enough because each of those parts taken individually is really good.

As Devonia Williams’ piano and Leard Bell’s clickety-clack drumming lead into Bobby Nunn’s familiar deep tones the record has a tight feel and strong focus. A step above mid-tempo but not quite running at full speed this settles into a nice loping groove that’s rhythmic and catchy and provides Nunn and the rest of the Robins with the perfect platform to strut their stuff.

All of them get plenty to do here too. The rest of the group is singing/chanting replies to Nunn in a style that comes across as almost sarcastic in nature giving this a snarky edge to it that’s intriguing but unfortunately never quite explains itself. If that was indeed their intent to act as a cynical Greek chorus there should be some evident reason for this attitude, but instead their delivery alone will have to suffice, leaving you to fill in the blanks as to why they’re chiding him this way.

But that’s forgivable enough because it still sounds good, their presence here being much more pronounced than a lot of groups who are forced to take a back seat to the lead and so we let that pass.

At the same time this is unfolding though we’re forced to contend with two distinct instrumental elements. In normal circumstances one or the other of these would act as the centerpiece but here they’re being asked to share the spotlight, one which isn’t quite big enough to envelop them both simultaneously.


If I Fell For You
When he injured his hand in late 1949 it forced Johnny Otis to switch from drums to vibraphones, a somewhat non-traditional instrument that is often best applied in small doses. To be fair Otis sometimes chose to sit out of certain records entirely because he knew they wouldn’t fit, but at other times he inserted himself into the proceedings a little too much, allowing them to overwhelm the rest of the arrangement because of how unique they sound compared to most other things at his disposal.

In other words, vibes don’t always blend in as well as horns, piano and guitar.

On You’re Fine But Not My Kind they go from a minor supporting role in the first stanza where he’s echoing the drums to suddenly being elevated to the lead instrument in the second stanza where they deviate completely from the established rhythm and takes things in a very whimsical direction, which is sort of strange considering this is the first Robins release where Otis is not specifically credited on the label, though obviously that was not his decision.

In the midst of this Pete Lewis has jumped into the mix on guitar and is playing melodic embellishments that don’t correspond with what Otis is up to. They don’t completely clash but they’re certainly not helping each other’s cause any. When Johnny takes a solo, which isn’t bad at all, it’s helped immeasurably because Lewis simply plays a monotonous thick distorted tone beneath it, aiding the rhythm while ceding the melodic responsibility to Otis.

During this stretch however you hear voices in the background, not singing exactly, but quite having a conversation. It sounds like a crude guide vocal that somehow got picked up on the microphones. It may not distract you too much, but it’s clearly audible and depending on how curious you are about such abnormalities your mind might wander a bit here.

As for The Robins themselves, they’re the ones who remain focused on the bottom line throughout all this, their parts are well crafted, the give and take is natural and churns along at a solid clip, and if the lyrics are more generalities about the risks of love rather than delving too deep in the specifics of why Nunn should be wary about giving his heart to this girl, at least they’re not insipid in their overall message.

Because they’re so efficient in their deliveries, because their respective tones hit the sweet spot on the musical scale and because they never deviate for a second from that infectious rhythm, their performance sounds better than you’d expect for such a repetitive structure.

In effect they seem to be saying something meaningful by how confident they are in their delivery, even though upon closer inspection it’s more of a mirage built around a single groove, which is harder to pull off without losing a listener’s interest than you’d think, so kudos for them for achieving it in a manner that seems almost effortless.


Shouldn’t Say That
There’s a good chance I’m overthinking this, looking for faults rather than enjoying it for what it is, but it remains a record which – for me anyway – always sounds much stronger in passing than under a microscope.

That’s not necessarily a BAD thing of course, since most music is heard while doing something else… driving, hanging out with friends, even dancing where the music is more of an aural guide not something to concentrate your full attention on every note being played and each inflection of a singer’s voice while analyzing the lyrics like a reporter conducting an interview.

But when it comes to repeated listening, that’s another story. At a certain point you move past the superficial sonic absorption of a song you hear over and over and the specific details have to start penetrating your consciousness whether you intend it to or not and that’s when You’re Fine But Not My Kind gives back just a little of its credits it piled up on more casual spins.

If you’re the type who has a nagging inclination to obsess over such details you try and figure out how they could’ve tightened it up a little (eliminating Otis’s flightier interlude for starters which would then make his soloing stint have a greater impact), and wonder if maybe they should’ve emphasized the rhythm section more, maybe amp it up to get a bit of buzzy distortion in the mix to lend a greater sense of urgency.

Then again you could’ve stripped it down a lot, removing Otis altogether and leaving Lewis to do nothing more than double the bass-line with his guitar while tossing in a torrid sax solo to make it sound more in line with what other groups were doing. But when you have so many extra tools in your chest it’s easy to see why Otis looked to diversify their output as much as he did, even if occasionally it meant he overreached just a little.

In the end this is a good record, just short of very good actually, certainly above average, but still not all it might’ve been. When comparing it to the high standard they’ve set over the past ten months it’s a clear notch below much of it which tells you just how good they’ve been. So if that’s a criticism it’s probably one a lot of artists would love to have.


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