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When launching an artist the question has to be asked if you want them to follow a currently popular path in an attempt to fit in with what has already been accepted by the masses or if you want them to break new ground in an attempt to get the rest of music to follow them.

Both have inherent risks of course besides simply being so reliant on the quality of the material itself. If you take chances stylistically there’s no guarantee of widespread success even if you do manage to turn heads.

Yet if you stick to replicating that which is already out there without adding anything new to make it stand out, it’s far too easy for it to get lost in the shuffle.

The record business is conservative by nature and with Lee Magid, who also discovered Varetta Dillard, being this song’s writer and producer you can be reasonably assured they would play it safe.


Ruin This Life Of Mine
Rock ‘n’ roll has always had plenty of songs about drinking to excess and at this stage of its development it probably reached its statistical peak in terms of records using it as their primary subject matter.

Its benefits were widely celebrated at times when it came to celebrating the act of cutting loose with friends, while in other records the negative impact of boozing it up were never far from the surface. As such, depending on the record, it allowed each side of the equation to be dealt with in a very direct manner. This being the early Nineteen Fifties however there was bound to be no ambiguity shown… you simply chose a perspective and looked at it from that point of view exclusively.

To that end Love And Wine can be explained in totality simply by saying that Varetta Dillard loves her guy but her guy loves his wine more.

It’s a juicy story I suppose, no pun intended, but it’s also incredibly to the point. An accusatory harangue backed with some emotional pain and frustration but no real insight into the human condition, either her own feelings at wanting someone who neglects her, or his reasons for turning to booze to fill some hole in his own life.

Yeah, I know, it’s a three minute rock song made for dancing, not a three hour session on a shrink’s couch, but in the years since songwriters have found ways to combine the two in ways most songs of this era did not think to try. Because most songs are forms of expression about a specific subject they’re able to be made more impactful simply by reflecting a psychological complexity under the hook filled lyrics and riffs. Doing so also allows each individual listener to pick up on a different element that’s relatable to them, whereas the more straightforward a song is, the more it’s reliant on those hooks to carry them through.

Here the hooks aren’t enough which means once again the weight of selling the record falls on the teenager at the microphone making her recording debut.


In My House So Often
It doesn’t take long to see how unimaginative this composition was as it starts off with its main complaint and then gives some examples to back it up without really exploring the issues it brings up.

The best aspect – and one which is at least somewhat unexpected – is the revelation that the landlady comes to drink with her fella and has Dillard leave while they “live it up”. Of course the implication is they’re having sex while she’s out, but unfortunately for the record there’s absolutely nothing sexual conveyed in the lyrics themselves, the vocal delivery or the subsequent plot. They’re throwaway lines designed to get a momentary rise out of the listener without a payoff.

Luckily Dillard’s vocals are strong, showing a fair amount of power as she lays into him with some admirable intensity, her voice straining and her annoyance laid bare. When she switches to a stop time technique she eases off on the vitriol in her voice itself while still commanding your attention with her sassy attitude while even the nonsensical “Well oh well, oh well” vocal riff shows a lot of sheer prowess as a singer.

Sadly the band backing her on Love And Wine are in over their heads again with some harsh horns at their loudest and excessively vanilla riffs at their quietest. When Dillard implores them to “Well blow, get it now!” they do no such thing – and no, letting the baritone drop in an occasional low note does not qualify as “getting it” anywhere outside of a retirement community.

The best instrumental contribution comes from the guitarist who tosses in some nice licks in between the cracks yet never gets more to do even though there’s not much else happening to justify squeezing him out of the picture.

For someone who will go on to be quite a contributor to rock’s ongoing advancement, arranger Leroy Kirkland hardly makes a good showing here with this strictly by the numbers job using the wrong horns and a passive mindset to boot.

While there are some good lines here and there, a decent musical structure and obviously Dillard’s solid instinctive performance, this is still a record that aims fairly low and considers itself a success for merely reaching that bar.

‘Til The Day He Dies
Any record where both sides are average can hardly be called a setback for a new artist but considering both sides hedged their bets on the arrangements it’s definitely a missed opportunity to make a grander statement.

Nothing about Love And Wine stands out from a creative perspective, its theme, its lyrics and musical attributes range from generic to lazy and it’s only Varetta Dillard’s vocal skill and confidence that are notable.

Considering she’s not a technical virtuoso with pipes that could stop you in your tracks there’s no real chance for her to do more than simply garner some modest kudos for her work before the record came and went without a trace leaving virtually no one who’d be anxiously anticipating her follow-up release.

Sometimes it’s better in life to take a risk and fail than to never take one at all and regret the mediocre fate you end up with as a result of playing it safe.


(Visit the Artist page of Varetta Dillard for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)