Images in your mind aren’t simply built on visual memories, but on aural ones that go along with them to create an atmospheric likeness of something that left an impression while you were wide awake… distinctive in what it conjures up, even if left a little vague when it comes to the details.

It’s not hard to envision a party in full swing when hearing a raucous sounding track where the instruments are as lively as you imagine the participants to be. Similarly when listening to an soft string-laden orchestral rendering, you’ll easily be able to put yourself in a swanky ballroom waltzing with someone in clothes that cost more than your first monthly rent bill did once upon a time.

But in rock one of the more evocative pictures you can draw is with moody instrumentals that seem like the perfect soundtrack to staggering home late at night with no one to pass the time with until morning.

Or at least that’s the intent on records like this.


The musical contributions in rock ‘n’ roll made thus far by Harry Van Walls would be hard for the average fan at the time to assess because it wasn’t often that he got label credit for his session work.

Needless to say however, the results of his job as a sideman speaks for itself, as Atlantic Records in particular was defined in large part during this era due to Van Walls’ impeccable piano lines on songs such as Big Joe Turner’s Chains Of Love and the addictive riff on The Clovers’ One Mint Julep, both of which were #2 hits this past year.

Naturally they wanted to keep him happy which meant letting him get a few singles of his own every so often (another word for rarely, as this is his first release in nearly two years) even though they had to know these had little chance of being commercial hits.

In fact piano-based instrumentals never made for many big hits in rock during the Nineteen Fifties, as first the saxophone and then the guitar tended to dominate the landscape in this field.

So if they could come up with something that was distinctly suited to keyboards and which had an image in your mind to go with it, such as the lonely despair people often feel After Midnight, it probably seemed to them that’d be a slightly better bet than most approaches he might take.

Unfortunately while Van Walls does suggest he’s spending the night without company on this, chances are it’s because everyone else in the room got bored listening to him and left on their own volition.

A Long Way ‘Til Morning
The opening few seconds are promising as a crawling stand-up bass backed with a few intermittent snare hits creates an interesting scene in your mind… one which is gradually rendered to be misleading – or at least unfulfilling – by the arrival of Van Walls himself.

He too starts off alright with a sort of lazy finger-flex on the keys, like he was trying to decide what to do and just was breaking the sonic ice first. But once he settles on something you almost wish he hadn’t because there’s a few things missing that we typically like to see.

The first is a good melody, of which After Midnight has none. Instead it wanders around in search of a melody by starting down one road, then taking a wrong turn and spinning around in circles looking to get back to someplace more welcoming.

The second thing its lacking, though this wouldn’t necessarily go with a more melodic song if he’d settled on that, is a great groove. That would’ve been the best option here, just pick a riff and cycle through it a few times letting the other instruments fill in the blanks. Instead there’s none to be found. Strike two.

Which brings us to the last thing it’s in need of, better interplay with the rest of the band. But aside from the simple bass and drum parts which soon fade deep into the recesses of the arrangement, there’s very little else to be found besides a jazzy guitar that doesn’t want to intrude so it sort of hides in the shadows and pokes its head out every so often before pulling it back out of sight.

We get no saxophone, which might’ve given not only some structure to the song, but also a more appropriate mood to base things off, and as a result it’s just an endless series of random noodling by Van Walls that leads nowhere.

Each one individually is played well enough. He’s still a good pianist after all, but someone like this needs a better framework around him and without it, we’re like the guy with insomnia who keeps looking at the clock while hoping they either fall asleep fast or that morning comes earlier than expected.

Sadly this record is more like getting an extra hour in daylight savings time but instead of enjoying the added rest, it only gives us more time to suffer alone in the dark.


(Visit the Artist page of Harry “Piano Man” Vann Walls for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)