2020-02-11 14:39:02 UTC
In the album era – or more recently than that, the streaming era – an artist’s penchant for experimenting is an asset… or at the very least never really a detriment. The sheer number of tracks released at any given time allows for the full extent of an artist’s creativity to be heard and appreciated without necessarily sabotaging their commercial prospects in the bargain.
Theoretically that may have been true even prior to that in the singles era if an artist and label doled out those stylistic curveballs on the backside of a surefire hit that followed some sort of established formula or trend. But two songs on a lone single was hardly akin to 12 songs on an album where something different which fell short creatively could be better lost in the shuffle.
Seeing as how the designated top side of this single was the more eccentric side and as a result failed to make an impression on the audience, that meant it fell to the more traditional song adorning this side to try and keep Amos Milburn’s commercial hot streak going strong.
When People Say You’re Untrue
This is an odd song in many ways even though at a glance it may fit the bill as the type of contemplative ballad that he’s done well with in the past. But unlike those former glories where Milburn’s voice has dripped with soulful anguish, here he takes on a dreamy pallor which renders it somewhat emotionally removed from the listener by its very framework, something which is exacerbated by the pastel-like musical colors he paints with.
With the guitar taking on the primary accompaniment rather than the horns or Milburn’s own piano, both of which are present but muted in their support, right away this presents a different atmospheric feel, but just what genre it recollects is something of a mystery. Certainly the guitar would, in a few years time anyway, become one of rock’s defining characteristics, but this was well before that was the case and if the guitar had followed the approach used here by Texas Johnny Brown it would likely never have taken hold as a dominant instrument in rock circles.
I’m Just A Fool In Love has more of a mellow jazz vibe than anything, or perhaps it would fit in a cocktail blues bag, something which Aladdin – which had in their midst the great Charles Brown – probably saw as a positive when picking which sides to put out. Considering that this was cut on the fourth day of the new year and issued less than two weeks later it shows they had plenty of expectations for it, especially since Milburn still had so many great sides languishing their vaults.
The question this leads to is were they eyeing a different market, one that was by no means more profitable than rock had become, but one that was nevertheless seen as being more stable and acceptable?
It’s hard to say… certainly that’s your instinct when it comes to the generally conservative nature of record companies as a whole, but Milburn’s stylistic versatility meant that sometimes there was no long range plan with each release, rather these deviations from the norm had to be chalked up to him just momentarily tapping into something that he would subsequently move away from next time out.
My Life, My Love, My Heart
The most notable aspect of this record, at least compared to his normal output, is how it finds Milburn easing off on his usual vocal urgency to the extreme and the result is… well, let’s call it “pleasant”, provided you take that term as neutrally as possible.
This delivery sounds as if his eyes were vacantly staring into the distance, unaware of his surroundings and unconcerned with how well he’s being received. He stretches words to their breaking point yet imparts no tension in doing so, his touch is so light and airy that his voice practically floats away, slipping from your consciousness without a struggle. Rather than making a deep impression you’re left with just a fleeting one.
Truthfully he sounds almost as if he’s stoned. The lyrics might not be that special but they at the very least imply he’s beholden to some girl emotionally and yet that doesn’t come across here at all. There’s no ache to his voice, no yearning qualities in his tone. He seems utterly detached from the very sentiments he’s expressing and you can’t help but wonder if the fact he had no hand in writing this – which marked the start of a long stretch in which he ceded control of his material to outside sources – was to blame. After all, the further you are from a song’s inspiration the less likely you are to tap into its best qualities.
Yet I don’t think he’s merely going through the motions either as some form of passive-aggressive protest. He may truly think this method of absentminded reflection he uses is suited for the theme, but it robs I’m Just A Fool In Love of any real impact, not just vocally but also in terms of what his band is able to contribute if they want to stay on the same page as him.
Johnny Brown plays with a deft touch here, matching the mood Milburn’s vocals conjure up – discreet, tasteful and certainly technically proficient, but that merely causes it to blend together even more until it’s all shrouded in haze. Perhaps most harmful of all in that regard is Milburn’s own piano solo which is so demure that we almost do a double take when realizing this is the same guy who pounded the ivories with such fury in the past. Again, the versatility itself is admirable but that doesn’t make what he plays compelling on its own.
So let’s circle back to where we started when talking about the differences between the singles era where jukebox play was paramount in an artist’s career, and the later album era where sales to an established fan-base was enough to keep you on top.
If this been an album cut where it was surrounded by more typical fare (including his last few hits perhaps) then it might’ve made a better impression. The song itself of course would be the same, but played amidst a run of barn-burners and more gut-wrenching ballads then it’d at least stand as a change of pace. It still might be the weakest cut on the LP but you’d be hearing it in a different context, where it was the cumulative effect of a dozen songs that you were taking in rather than the immediate impact of any one of them in isolation.
You’ll Someday Be A Fool
But this wasn’t the album era and as a fan you were left to judge each song individually, and while suitable to hear in passing this is hardly something you’d come back to again.
Its modest success on regional charts seemed largely due to it being slightly more accessible on first listen than the more atypical – but much better – Tell Me How Long Has This Train Been Gone which adorned the A-side and of course Milburn’s stellar reputation all but ensured that any release of his would get a few spins once it was released by fans expecting the best.
Yet listeners were clearly still not convinced of the merits of this one, even after Aladdin switched the promotion to I’m Just A Fool In Love when it showed a little bit of life commercially, as it couldn’t manage to stir enough widespread interest to crack the national listings, something which had to be a blow to the egos of all involved.
Since late 1948 Amos Milburn had been infallible commercially, wracking up hit after hit – scoring with uptempo songs and ballads alike, songs with decedent themes and those with mournful ones, records featuring the best studio musicians in the land behind him and others showcasing his own road band, it didn’t seem to matter. He seemed almost invulnerable… until now.
That this one release fell short of expectations wasn’t the end of the world, but as we know when faced with a commercial disappointment you can usually count on those in the music industry to overreact in some way and you hope for Milburn’s sake that he’ll be able to take it in stride and reassure everyone around him that the road they were traveling on was still the best route to take going forward… provided they step on the gas a little harder than this.
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT: 4/10