Friday, 19 August 2011

Hep-Cat Hurrah

How ’Bout That, Louis Jordan
Louis Jordan reminds me of a cross between Little Richard and Chuck Berry: he’s got Little Richard’s high camp extraversion and Chuck Berry’s excellent tunes. Only those tunes – which are indeed said to have influenced Berry – aren’t quite rock’n’roll: Jordan was a star in the 1930s and ’40s, playing swing and jazz, and though he paved the way for rock, his day was over by the time it arrived and he’s little remembered today. That’s both a low-down dirty shame and an injustice, because his music isn’t just high octane fun but high quality too, and sounds very complex and skilful set against the sometimes crude rock that would follow it.
Not that it’s high art: Jordan was an entertainer for a mass market, and often did what his white audience expected of him: played the extravert Negro fool on songs like “G.I. Jive”, “The Green Grass Grows All Around”, and “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”. There are glimpses of darker emotions on this compilation, though: “You Run Your Mouth and I’ll Run My Business”, as you can guess from the title, isn’t good-natured like most of Jordan’s more famous songs, and there’s some bluesy lamenting over female perfidy on songs like “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town” and “It’s a Low Down Dirty Shame”.
But I would guess from his voice and style that not all of Jordan’s romantic troubles, and not all of his romantic interests, came from and were centered on women: as I said above, he is often not merely extravert but very camp too, and like Little Richard’s his voice can be high-pitched to the point of effeminacy. “Honeysuckle Rose”, his dithyramb of praise to an attractive woman, isn’t sexualized simply by the lyrics but by Jordan’s vocals too: it’s almost as though he’s singing to a woman and acting the part of that woman himself. He’s much more masculine on some other songs, but his hermaphroditism makes him even more Dionysian than the spontaneity and abandon of his music. If you haven’t heard him before, you ought to try to; if you have, I doubt you’ll need advising to hear him again.

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