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IMPERIAL 5076; MAY 1950



Every now and then it seems that certain artists try making the case for their full artistry in methodical fashion, offering one aspect of their talents at a time, hopeful that by focusing on each individual component of their work in singular fashion that someone out there will see that it all adds up to something meaningful… that their career, short though it may have been, was ultimately worthwhile.

Though we’ve already kind of come to that conclusion with the star-crossed Jewel King, here she is throwing one more piece of evidence into the mix with her first solo writing credit, and if you want to view the lyrics as somewhat autobiographical then in a way it might even serves as a defense for her eventual exile from the rock kingdom for sticking by her man come hell or high water.


A Lock On My Heart
This is a song about love that is almost searing in its intensity, yet it’s delivered in a way that makes it sound almost painful… and I suppose a more apt description of Jewel King’s own love life could hardly be found no matter how hard you tried.

The story of Passion Blues is hardly very deep, certainly not very descriptive in terms of its wording, yet it manages in such a stark setting to almost perfectly convey the all-consuming love that cost her a chance at stardom.

King lays bare her emotions in a way that’s almost more revealing than if she’d spilled her guts out while sharing intimate details of her private life in tawdry terms… or if she had wailed uncontrollably, singing as if on the verge of breaking down as she thought about her man.

Instead of those more showy displays King tries to keep her feelings guarded and in the process fails miserably at it. But this is clearly an intentional choice on her part desgined in a way for the underlying feelings to come out in spite of her apparent efforts to conceal them. That’s also its best chance to connect with listeners, by making it appear as though she’s trying to rein in her desire for the sake of decorum, but showing how much of a struggle that is as you hear her voice whine with anguish.

It’s an ambitious, albeit tricky, balance to maintain – and one that’s not helped by the arrangement – but she handles it well by applying the right amount of pressure throughout… too hard and it’d make her sound crazy, too little passion and it’d come across as shallow and more of a front than anything.

But by allowing herself to strain at the seams it comes across as a genuine expression of her deepest emotions, constantly letting us feel the ache without descending into parody. There are times when the slow tempo – and I mean deathly slow – forces her to hold onto a note too long which twists the meaning, but just when you think it’ll do her in she deftly eases up on the intensity, climbing a few notes and exhaling as she sings thereby alleviating the pressure and drawing you back in.

It’s certainly not a perfect composition but it’s pretty impressive even with its flaws. Some of the lines may be a bit stilted, not so much in their meaning but in the way they flow, yet she clearly wrote them with a very fixed mindset that makes itself apparent in those lines payoffs. The best of which comes after she awkwardly tries cramming the words “then that makes the feeling mutual” into a space not meant for nearly that many syllables, but when she pulls out of it with the revelation “I think I’m crazy too” it all comes together nicely and gives a perfect window into her tangled emotions.

I Don’t Know What I’m Going To Do
Because it’s such plodding tempo though… and because it has no natural vocal hook to use as a chorus… and because it’s so naked in its presentation of love that is now more a compulsion than an indulgence, there’s no release to be found and that ultimately undercuts its effectiveness as a record, even if it might make the performance more realistic.

The music here serves merely as a backdrop, not an embellishment, save perhaps for the bluesy guitar intro which is dreamy but restless. The horns when they come in are slow and monotonous, almost heartless in their repetitiveness as they moan without showing any real sympathy. It’s a good effect psychologically even if it’s tedious musically, but since Passion Blues is a record, not a college dissertation, that becomes something of a detriment the longer it goes on.

You’re waiting for some kind of slight of hand measure to give this some life but the options are few if producer Dave Bartholomew wants to remain faithful to the message being imparted. A sax solo won’t work because it’ll barely change the sonic textures, let alone will be unable to utilize its most potent method for transforming the mood with a raucous break, and even the guitar, which keeps playing fills after each vocal line, would just sound like overkill, forced to keep the same dejected tone in place.

So instead there’s no break at all, the closest we come is a stop-time middle eight in which King lets her voice raise up some while a stand-up bass answers her, replicating the approach used on the other side, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut, which at least had the advantage of coming in a song with a more flexible tempo.

Maybe if they’d taken a page out of Johnny Otis’s playbook at this time and added some vibes it’d have worked, but that could’ve just as easily gone too far and cluttered up the sparse track. Truthfully – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – the best method might’ve been a very muted, distant trumpet solo, no more than 12 bars, eight might be even better, just to give it a different sound while maintaining the same somber outlook.

Without something to shake it up though the song, while relatively short at under three minutes, drags at times and forces you to pay close attention to get as much out of it as you should and even that comes with a risk as in doing so you’ll have far too much time to focus on its drawbacks causing you to perhaps miss some of its strengths.

Takes Every Bit Of My Dignity
There’s not much chance for a song like this to become a hit. Despite its theme of an all-consuming love, it’s not a happy tune, certainly nothing you’d even slow dance to with your sweetie, and unlike most hit records of the day it’s designed to reward introspection rather than spur communal involvement while listening.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad song and in fact makes for a pretty effective B-side because it isn’t forced to carry the weight of sales or jukebox spins and thus is left to those with a deeper interest in the artist and more time on their hands to study at their leisure.

Though Passion Blues has almost unavoidable structural flaws no matter how lenient you are about those sorts of things, it also shows Jewel King to be a powerful vocalist in a way that uses a different definition of power to get that point across, not to mention revealing that she’s an insightful songwriter who just needed a little more knowledge of dynamics to really bring this together.

But because of her own true life story involving the unwinnable power struggle between Jewel, her guitarist husband Jack Scott and the record company that she was in the process of living out in front of us, the ultimate value of a song like this is as a way to peer inside her soul to see if we can’t extract some explanation for those unanswerable questions over her fateful choices that ended her career which still nag at us seven decades after the fact.


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