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SAVOY 859; AUGUST 1952



For a long time we’ve wanted to hear Varetta Dillard singing as herself rather than being forced to imitate somebody else, most notably Ruth Brown.

Though she had Brown’s squeals down to a science and some of the songs were really good, we knew we were merely being served up a skilled doppelgänger while the real artist under the surface wasn’t allowed to come out and play.

With this single though Dillard is finally being let out of the house. It’s a pity however that on this side at least those assigned to look out for her make sure she stays confined to the back yard.


The Only One For Me
Whenever we come to the point where the main plot of an artist’s story doesn’t change you know you’re in for a shorter review. Whether you are grateful for the time being saved in your day, or disappointed that you don’t get to waste more of it is none of my concern.

Suffice it to say, when it comes to assigning blame for Varetta Dillard’s uneven career to date the responsibility lays with producer Lee Magid who was less concerned with letting Dillard shine than he was with getting a hit to prove his worth the the company, even if it meant constantly trying to fool the public into thinking Ruth Brown jumped ship from Atlantic and changed her name to boot.

That deceit finally worked with Easy Easy Baby this spring, a good song and good performance even if Dillard was forced into wearing somebody else’s clothes while doing it.

Maybe that gave Magid the leeway he felt he needed to let Dillard speak for herself and here she not only got to sing in her natural voice for a change, but she also wrote You Are Gone to make sure of it… or as the title may suggest, to drop a not-so-subtle hint to Savoy to send Magid packing.

That means Dillard’s role here should be the one everyone else has to follow. She wrote it, she sings it, she knows the song backwards and forwards, so let her lead for a change. But she’s not an arranger and not a musician, nor do they let her produce, and so the responsibility falls to others in those areas, all of whom more or less let her down yet again.


Now I’m All Alone And Blue
With the opening line sung more or less acapella, Varetta Dillard once again leaves no doubt as to her skills. Unfortunately those skills remain largely centered on singing rather than songwriting, which is where this falters ever so much even before we get to the subpar arrangement.

It’s not badly written by any means, but we’ve had quite a few love letters to departed flames and with a series of rather stock lines this one isn’t going to stand out much in the lyrical construction. There’s no unexpected plot twists, no devastating revelations (wouldn’t you love to hear her tell the guy she’s pregnant with his baby or something, just to send the Catholic League Of Decency into convulsions?) and no turn of phrase that will stick in your mind longer than it takes to get to the next stanza.

But what she does say serves its purpose which is to inform us that she’s dejected over his leaving, wallowing in regret and wishing he’d return enough to send him this letter… or telegram… or maybe the record itself, telling him what he already knows when she reminds him You Are Gone.

So we can surmise he’s not getting any new insight from her and neither are we, but at least we ARE getting a pretty good performance in her own voice for a change. The choices she makes all work well, not just because her coiled delivery fits the narrative, but also because it allows us to sense her power without having her unleash it. The control she shows here is excellent, deploying a technique that someone like Faye Adams would make the centerpiece of her entire persona starting next year.

Adams generally had better songs and arrangements than this however, as the musicians who’d turned in such a fine performance on Them There Eyes largely miss their mark on this half, not by hitting bum notes or anything, but rather by letting the horns take an alternate route than the rest of the instruments.

Think of it like calling a running play in a football game where the fullback and tight end are supposed to be blocking, but instead they go out for short passes over the middle while the linebackers drive the poor halfback ten yards into the backfield for a loss.


I Won’t Rest ‘Til I’ve Found You
These wandering horns never completely upend the song, but they cause it to lose its sense of melodic direction (though at times it harkens back slightly to Ivory Joe Hunter’s brilliant I Need You So, a Number One hit from 1950) which at this modest pace is not something Dillard can render insignificant as she might’ve done if it was at a breakneck tempo instead.

We actually do get a nice passage from the sax right before the bridge, something that seems to be heading towards a solo but pulls back before committing to anything noteworthy.

Without that – and without a change of pace by Dillard to act in much the same way – You Are Gone gets a little tedious down the stretch, as we’re getting no satisfactory resolution to the story, just the same downhearted perspective served up again, while the musical side of the equation is content to just coast home.

They’ll get home alright, safe and sound in their own beds, so we can’t call it a total loss, but considering it’s one of our few chances to hear the REAL Varetta Dillard – her own thoughts expressed with her own voice – we have to bemoan the lack of effort by her cohorts to make this really worthy of her.

Unless of course you’re somebody who thinks that maybe this was what she would’ve amounted to without more controlling hands guiding her course.

Nah. She may have needed some co-writing help and a producer with a better imagination, but with a voice like she’s got Dillard is clearly outdistancing those in the studio with her on this one proving what we’ve suspected all along… namely that with the right people around her she could’ve been a much more consistent hitmaker than she was.


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