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IMPERIAL 5076; MAY 1950



Somewhere there exists an alternate reality where the world as we’ve come to know it is ever-so-slightly rearranged for the better… A world of mea culpas and second chances… where bad choices and stubborn defiance leads to gentle mercy rather than an endless string of ultimatums, harsh feelings and lost opportunities.

A world where Jewel King wasn’t made to suffer for her husband’s jealousies and insecurities but rather was able to use the musical talents they both possessed to advance each of their careers without it resulting in a needless show-down between artist and label, the kind in which few artists have the necessary clout to come out on top.

In that world Jack Scott would be content to contribute to his younger wife’s career with songs like this rather than feel the need to throw his weight around – or throw her career over the cliff – in a vain and ultimately futile effort to assert his own importance. Then today we’d be celebrating what would be just another step in a long and fulfilling career rather than having to come to grips with the fact that the end of her journey was rapidly coming into view.

Can’t Stand To Be In A Low Down Rut
You gotta admit the title of this – though almost surely just a catchy line to sell the song – could be read many different ways if you want to try and play armchair psychologist.

It could be Scott responding to his wife’s complaints about his undercutting her budding career, or it could be King who suggested it in a non-ironic commentary on his actions. Then again it might be a faintly humorous effort to try and quell the criticism they were receiving for their ill-fated battle against the label.

Whatever the inspiration for the title or the theme of the record, the end result winds up being pretty creative, telling a story with a number of interesting plot twists in just over two and a half minutes.

The structure is a little different than what we’re used to as following a quick horn flourish the song kicks off with the chorus, telling someone (could it be us?) to Keep Your Big Mouth Shut.

That ensures the song hits the ground running and because the focus of her demand isn’t clear we have to keep listening closely to find out its meaning and thanks to King’s acting ability the tale is going to come alive.

She takes on a semi-spoken delivery during much of this which somehow remains melodic even though she’s not always singing in a normal sense. Her smoky vocal textures remain alluring enough on their own to want to keep listening, but when she’s throwing around accusations and put-downs of her man (even withOUT the potential real life subtext) we’re hooked.

What exactly is she bitching about? Her disgust with her guy is obvious but it takes almost three quarters of the song to find out he’s cheated on her and now in steely defiance of him she’s headed out to have some fun of her own, putting him in his place with a righteous cool nonchalance.

When you get right down to it this is really a starkly believable scene… not too pleasant, but true to life as can be. She’s clearly remaining with him, infidelity and all, yet it’s equally obvious that the trust between them is gone forever because of his fooling around and so while she may continue to live with him in their “low down shack”, (a great throwaway detail that fits perfectly into the song’s flow), it’s now become an arrangement of convenience or necessity, not mutual desire.

The guy for his part, though we never hear his explanations, excuses or complaints, is none too happy about her new declaration of freedom and yet he has no leg to stand on. In a way she’s made him impotent by turning his actions back around, not by cheating on him but simply by making him think that such a turn-of-events is possible. Since she’s telling him outright this is the case there’s nothing he can do except concede the point entirely or move out himself.

In one fell swoop Jewel has seized the upper hand in a none-too-pretty struggle of two lives squabbling in the mud and while it may not be entirely a feminist manifesto, it’ll do quite nicely for the time period we’re in.

Will You Cool Down Baby ‘Til I Call For Your Act
While King’s reading of the narrative is full of bitter disdain and confident sass, it’s pretty clear that she’s carrying most of this song on her back. The musical arrangement she’s given doesn’t make any grave mistakes (well, one, but that’s less musical and more vocal, which we’ll get to) but it’s also one that is trying to do nothing more than just be serviceable.

And it is, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been improved some and given Keep Your Big Mouth Shut the boost it needed to get over the hump for those in the audience who don’t listen to the words like a marriage counselor and instead are mainly interested in the more visceral reactions the record elicits.

Bartholomew kicks it off with horns aplenty, all playing a tight, somewhat dramatic riff highlighted by Earl Palmer’s great drum fills before the piano comes along to handle the primary backing role.

It’s discreet enough not to get in the way and still keep the pace lively, but it’s not adding anything of note and the horns are used sparingly during the vocals, throwing in a few rejoinders that only give it a slightly different sonic texture, not anything to compliment the thematic flavor.

Where the record nearly runs aground however is during the extended break where it’s not an instrument that gets the first “solo”, but rather King herself who turns in one of those incomprehensible scat-vocal runs that were all the rage among New Orleans female singers during this era, as both King on earlier sides and Annie Laurie, have both utilized them to poor effect on what otherwise were some great sides.

Here it doesn’t quite ruin the record, but it definitely trips it up. She might be competently using this verbal gibberish to simulate rhythm, but it’d have been far better had they used her hubby to sit in and give us a guitar riff that offers up those lines on the strings. I know Scott wasn’t employed by the company and maybe there were some bad blood involved, but damn, his guitar is exactly what this needs because it would’ve led perfectly into the sax solo which follows and manages to win back all of the gains the song just handed away.

When they slow everything down to let King deliver the juicy plot reveal in a stop-time cadence Bartholomew brings the bass to the forefront which shows a great understanding of the need to highlight different instruments and so the failure to do something comparable in place of King’s gobbledygook is this track’s weakness… not enough to sink it by any means, but enough to keep it from matching her usual high marks… a good record rather than a great one.

Don’t You Try And Make A Goofball Out Me
In a way counting down the final handful of Jewel King sides is a sad event but in another sense, particularly with this song, it makes it all the more interesting.

Who knows what the behind the scenes discussions between husband and wife were like at the time. After all they probably couldn’t have guessed their ultimate fate at this point, so I’m sure for the two of them – her coming off a huge hit, him with a steady job as a much appreciated writer/arranger/guitarist with Paul Gayten’s top flight band – the future didn’t seem as dreary and full of regret that it wound up being.

But we can’t shake our own awareness of what was to follow anymore than they could’ve been aware of it approaching with unrelenting finality, and so we’re left to wish that Jewel took the dominant message of this song to heart and when Jack Scott started making demands that would impact her career simply told him in no uncertain terms to Keep Your Big Mouth Shut.

That approach may not have worked of course. It may have ended in an acrimonious divorce for all we know, but as music fans who wanted to see what else Jewel King was capable of as a singer going forward, if it meant getting more records from her they’d be words we’ve have loved to have heard say in real life rather than simply in a song.


(Visit the Artist page of Jewel King for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)