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It stands to reason that the expectations for each release were going to be a little higher when you were a star.

But that stardom often gave record companies permission to get by with generic songs from time to time, figuring that their name recognition alone would draw interest without having to go the extra mile and come up with anything truly special.

With dozens of artists on their roster needing a hundred or more songs a year to fill their release schedule they were always looking for ways to cut corners without it harming their revenue and so it should come as no surprise that they’d be amenable to surreptitiously swiping another hit song and dressing it up to disguise its origins and letting their biggest star’s vocal pyrotechnics do the rest.

Whether that’s enough to keep your audience satisfied however probably depends on how high those expectations of his fans actually are.


Forget All About The Past
On a casual listen this is a record that reasonably fits the bill. It’s got a slightly outdated arrangement but a good melody that offsets it. There’s not a very deep story to be found but Harris’s vaunted energy mostly makes up for that shortcoming. It’s also not the side of the record that will likely draw the most spins and so the weight this song carries is going to be lightened considerably, allowing it to be something that’s heard more in passing every so often rather than being a song that has to hold up to much scrutiny…

Everywhere but here of course, where over-scrutinizing each second of a record is the name of the game.

That’s when Be Mine My Love runs into some trouble. Though it certainly never sounds bad, it also never does anything to get you too enthused over hearing it play and when factoring in what we expect out of Wynonie Harris – indeed, what we HOPE to get from him each time out – your standards are re-calibrated and what would be acceptable coming from anyone else becomes seen as letting you down when delivered by him.

This may not be entirely fair I fully admit, and the end result – those numerical scores that people are prone to taking too seriously at times, myself included – wind up painting a slightly inaccurate picture of the record. But the point of any analysis is to see what gets us to that conclusion, not necessarily the conclusion itself… or at least that’s what I’m trying convince myself of heading into this review.


Say You Need Me Too
Let’s start with the arrangement which is the most obvious drawback at first glance as the usually infallible Henry Glover reaches back into his own past to bring forth a sound that would be more appropriate three or four years earlier with the dancing trumpet providing the most notable accompaniment. The jazzier image this creates for Be Mine My Love runs counter to what Harris does best meaning that while the band lags behind conceptually, Wynonie is going to have to do more to get this into the present.

Milt Buckner’s piano is being asked to carry virtually the rhythm on his fingers as the bass and drummer are practically muted during the verses, but Buckner is just playing a rudimentary prancing pattern that starts off fairly catchy in isolation but when it’s joined by the horns your attention to it wanes because it gets pushed back in the mix without doing anything to hold your focus. The music, in other words, is almost a secondary consideration.

Luckily the instrumental break tries to add a little fire to the proceedings with some energetic, if not necessarily exciting, playing. After the drummer wakes up from his nap one of the tenor saxes – either Joe Allston or John Hartzfield – takes the lead as the other horns riff unobtrusively behind him. It’s a decent enough showing, hitting an early groove before climbing up the scale to improvise a little, and if the rest of the track could match that modest enthusiasm being shown here you wouldn’t feel let down.

As it is though once the break ends things come crashing to a halt – or at least that’s how it seems – as they revert back to the quiet hand-holding accompaniment that resembles a parent walking their young child to the corner to catch the bus on their first day of school.

Harris of course went to a far different kind of school, musically and otherwise, which means that as modest as the band is in their pursuits, his presence should at least ensure that things aren’t going to remain in low gear whenever he opens his mouth.

So Sweet On You
As usual Harris’s vocal chords are willing and able even if he’s not quite firing on all cylinders when it comes to exhibiting the kind of hell-bent passion we’ve come to expect. That’s hardly his fault when what he’s being asked to sing here is pretty uninspiring stuff… not awful mind you, but just awfully generic.

In case you hadn’t picked up on it, Be Mine My Love is a thinly veiled rip-off of Larry Darnell’s mega-smash For You My Love from the previous fall. They even kept the last part of the lyrical hook intact to make sure those who weren’t able to see the similarities in the melody, trumpet and other obvious touches weren’t left grasping for the connection.

They’ve sped it up and given it a meatier horn section which helps, but whatever credit you want to give it for those changes they give it right back by the subpar story he’s been handed.

Whenever Wynonie Harris is put in a subservient position in a song it removes many of his greatest strengths as a singer, but that’s not a completely insurmountable obstacle as long as you get creative with it. The best section of this song comes in the bridge, not only because he sings with a more lusty tone than the verses, but also because he’s got something that paints a pretty interesting picture to sing about as he’s asking the fortune teller to try and give him an insider’s track to getting his girlfriend’s affections.

That’s an image that a good songwriter would run with and build an entire composition around (paging Allen Toussaint). It’s ripe with colorful possibilities, it’s got a built-in visual image in people’s heads that requires very little detailed description to bring to life and it would allow Harris to still be in a position of relative weakness when it comes to his status with his sweetheart, yet he’d be able to give us more of the off-the-rails persona we love when dealing with the fortune teller if she doesn’t give him the news he wants to hear.

Instead the story for Be Mine My Love is fairly mundane, a guy just trying to convince his girl he’s right for her with volume as much as with deeds, none of which is deep enough, humorous enough or told inventively enough to be more than filler in his catalog.

With his vocals tasked with carrying the melody this becomes even more apparent because there’s not much to distract you from what he’s singing about. It’s a series of broad proclamations we’ve heard a hundred times over the years about all someone is willing to do to prove their love and as such it can’t give us anything that stands out. Combine that with that nagging feeling you get from the reconstituted melodic progression from a more memorable song and it results in a listening experience that’s slightly more frustrating than engrossing.


Read My Hand
In many ways these middling songs from a legendary name are the most difficult to review. Every artist’s persona factors into how we receive things of course and with someone as distinctive as Wynonie Harris that often means you care less about the specific content and more about the overall image he’s putting across.

But no matter how I try and frame this it’s a song that never lives up to those expectations. That it sounds better in passing than when dissecting it is something that I’m sure a lot of people will say is all that truly matters and therefore it should be enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.

After all Harris did his job pretty well here and you might see it as unfair to penalize him for the laziness of others working with him. But just as a great record gets points for the work of those behind the curtain, so too should a halfhearted effort on their part take points away.

It’s crucial to remember that artists only have a handful of singles each year to give us and a quasi-remake of somebody else’s year old hit was not what one of rock’s brashest stars in the midst of his prime should’ve been asked to deliver. I don’t think anyone would question the idea that someone of Harris’s stature should should be looking to set the pace each time out and I defy anyone to say that Be Mine My Love tries to do that in any way, shape or form.

Instead it seems to be concerned with merely filling the bill, not advancing the career of Harris or of rock ‘n’ roll itself. All of which leads to the question of why waste the limited opportunities you have on something that’s designed to be inconsequential.


(Visit the Artist page of Wynonie Harris for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)