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ATLANTIC 865: OCTOBER, 1948

 
 

 

Another song that only just survived the last cut for being reviewed, but ultimately it’s entirely welcome now that it slipped in.

There were a couple of reasons why this almost got dropped, the first being that musically, like an earlier Tiny Grimes side That Old Black Magic which had been released back in April 1948, the song here is sort of caught between two worlds, only one world of which interests us as rockers.

Since I already delved into that split in their approach it seemed redundant to do so again, especially after they seemed to shake that malady in the top side of this, Midnight Special. Why revisit an earlier theme when instead we could move on to another record by another artist with entirely fresh insights to expound upon?

But the other reason, the more pragmatic reason actually, is that I really was skittish about the song title playing havoc with search engines, since here on Spontaneous Lunacy we’re eagerly covering the rock output of the ARTIST known as Annie Laurie, whereas this is the SONG called Annie Laurie.

Since there’s no way to differentiate the same two words appearing in the exact same order for those automated “bots” that are crawling through the website at all hours looking for topics to help people find us, I dreaded the idea of someone coming here in search of the vocalist and finding this record, or for that matter hoping to read about this record only to land in one of Annie Laurie, the singer’s, reviews and cursing us to the heavens for misleading them.

But in the end obviously I said the hell with it. Considering that rock of the late 1940’s is hardly a popular search engine request to begin with, chances are someone who actually IS looking for one OR the other specifically will be perfectly happy, elated even, to see this era is being addressed and – if they bother looking around (hint to all those wayward souls who landed here in error but who have read this far all the same, try the Master Index and see all we’ve already covered in depth – you won’t regret it… he says modestly) – will eventually find the one they came for and decide to stick around.

Okay, that’s decidedly optimistic I know, but stranger things have happened and we can always hope anyway.
 

The Song, Not The Girl
So the focus of THIS review is obviously not the New Orleans chanteuse whose work to date has been intriguing and promising thus far, but rather the work of another intriguing and promising artist named Tiny Grimes, a guitarist and jazz refugee whose forays into rock have been up and down for the most part but never less than interesting.

Things were looking up for Tiny as of late, having seemed to have figured out the right approach to connect with the rock audience with Midnight Special that adorned the A-side of this and would soon give Grimes, and Atlantic Records, their first actual chart hit. So we’ll be curious to see if all involved can extend that winning streak and begin to take consistent steps towards carving out their own piece of the growing rock kingdom.

Which is the other reason we included this, for what better place to look for evidence of their full conversion to rock than on the flip-side of that initial breakthrough, maybe getting a hint or two as to whether the success of the top side was a harbinger of things to come or if it had been just a lucky shot in the dark by all involved.

On the other hand though when you see the source material they’re using this time out maybe it’d be better to avoid this one altogether.

Annie Laurie was a Scottish folk tune based on a poem about a real life girl from the turn of the century… the 18th Century that is, as in the 1600’s going into the 1700’s. Nothing like a timely reference for rock ‘n’ roll of the mid-twentieth century, is there?

The music that was added was decidedly more modern than that however… as it was conceived in the early to mid-1800’s! …I know, I know, it hardly seems promising for a rock revival. But the song and subject HAD been more recently popular, as the song was used in the 1945 Oscar winning film A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, so it’s not like it was entirely unknown in 1948.

Besides, there’s a reason why it remained popular throughout the world for so many years as the melody is quite lovely and since Grimes was cutting instrumentals its most appealing feature was certainly going to be emphasized.
 

 
 

Like Winds In Summer Sighing
And emphasize it they do, especially at the start where the guitar shimmers throughout the introduction before the drums come slamming in as punctuation, probably causing the original Laurie and her lover to go spinning in their graves.

Right away whether you’re familiar with the origins of the song or not you can tell this is a strong melodic composition. It gently swings, moving forward at a steady clip, Red Prysock’s understated saxophone adding to its charm. Meanwhile Grimes stinging fret-work has got you bobbing your head along to the rhythm. The first forty seconds is as solid as anything we’ve heard from them to date and when combined with the evidence on the other side of the record it’s giving every indication that they’ve turned the corner on the approach they’ll be taking from here on in.

But then comes the first of multiple stylistic intrusions we alluded to earlier, this one in the form of the piano playing a heavy handed supper club interlude (I know that sounds like a contradiction, but when you hear it, there’s no other way to put it – it’s somehow both too harsh and too light at the same time). Luckily that lasts only a brief time before Grimes returns, bringing back with him the stately melody we’ve already grown quite fond of.

When Prysock jumps on board again as Grimes slides to the background briefly the rock elements become more notable and we’re optimistic once more. Yet before we can get TOO comfortable they trip us up when upon Tiny’s return he plays a bit too jazzy and breaks the spell Prysock had just established. He plays WELL, don’t get me wrong, but the mood shift is jarring.

It goes on like this for the rest of the record. One good moment followed by one that could’ve been improved upon… or better chosen is more like it. Conflicted intent, the bane of jazz-oriented rock artists at this point in time, rears its ugly head, taking what might’ve been the equal of what we’ve just heard from them and keeps it from seriously challenging that precedent.

That the bad never overwhelms the good aspects at least makes it a much easier listen than some other songs stuck between two approaches, and they certainly hint at what might’ve been on the positive side of the ledger to make us eager with anticipation for what may follow in their canon. Most intriguing, and totally unexpected, there are times during this where I could envision them adding a bit more reverb and turning it into an early – say circa 1962 – surf rock instrumental, when the sax still held sway in that field as much as the electric guitar did. Obviously that wasn’t an option in 1948, but it does give some indication that with a few creative tweaks it’d work quite effectively in a variety of settings.

Here it would too though if a few of the lingering flirtations with jazz were taken out, or at least downplayed a little more. They never push it too far in that direction, unlike in the past at times, but its ongoing presence in his repertoire, especially when intruding on a song meant for another idiom, remains a stumbling block for truly making this rock excursion an unmitigated success.
 


 

Low And Sweet
However what works here is very good, the tone of Grimes guitar is the best heard thus far from him, clean and precise, very fluid, almost a liquid sound. The drums are potent enough, far more than you’d expect for something this ancient in origin and when they jump into the fray it’s like a jolt of energy that raises everybody’s game.

Meanwhile for those unfamiliar with his future work Prysock is quickly becoming a revelation, already showing himself to be capable of both mellow introspection and moments of grittier passion that bodes well for their ensuing collaborations.

All of that is really good, certainly well above average in terms of skill, and even in terms of their delivery of the content.

But what pulls it back down are the conscious decisions they make in its arrangement which leads to the unfortunate perception that they’re selling the rock fan short by not trusting in that constituency being supportive enough to sustain them and so they try and reach back to please their older audience from time to time.

Of course to be fair about it the rock fan HADN’T supported them fully to date, but that has more to do with their lack of a truly worthwhile effort to offer them. Now that they were in the process of delivering on their musical promise with Midnight Special, which would be met with the proper amount of enthusiasm – and the coinciding financial remuneration in the form of jukebox spins and records bought – they’d get the feedback that should give them a clear direction in which to head from now on.

But at this point, without those returns to draw from, they remain largely unsure of their destination and it has the unfortunate impact of lessening the potency of Annie Laurie – for either audience. I doubt the jazz fans giving this a try stuck around after that introduction, especially after the drummer gave them heart palpitations, and the rockers like us start to lose interest when they shift into the slow lane. So Grimes’ indecisiveness behind the wheel means, on this song anyway, they’re just going to annoy the others on the road with their incessant zig-zagging along the highway.

There’s still more than enough time to straighten their course, especially once they pull over to get some more gas and hear the news that they’ve gotten a hit with their most consistent rock output to date. It’s then that we’ll expect them to really start zeroing in on their ultimate destination, tuning up the engine and tearing off along the next straightaway. Therefore we hope this song is just that last pit-stop before the next unbroken stretch of road that lays ahead of them and will take us all over the next horizon.
 


 

So with that in mind, and as B-sides go, especially one on the back of a legitimate rock hit which itself was a bolder step in the right direction, Annie Laurie is a welcome passenger in that car as the melody she hums adds something nice and refreshing as you travel along the endless stretch of highway. Grimes must’ve thought so too for he cut this song a number of times over the next fifteen years, showing she was good company if nothing else.

After all it’s a long trip to where we’re going and it’s nice having a girl, any girl, along for the ride.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Tiny Grimes for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)