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RCA 20-4899; AUGUST 1952



Maybe you’ve noticed from time to time around here that we tend to be a bit harsh when we feel let down by talented artists, particularly when they release stylistically compromised records that are trying to court rock fans without alienating the broader mainstream audience.

Criticizing that dead end approach has kinda become “our thing”.

Few artists have been subjected to this disgruntled response of ours more than Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis who despite his natural gifts as a singer, songwriter and guitarist was rarely allowed to showcase them all in the same performance without the intrusion of loftier aspirations of the label.

We bemoan it with regularity and yet here, with this side of a forgotten single that embodies that mindset better than most examples we could find, there’s a chance we may finally be able to partially explain it.

Not condone it mind you, but at least see why Lewis always seemed to be the guinea pig for foolhardy crossover dreams of the industry.


Look For You In The Shadows
Truth be told, this is not a song we really need to be reviewing.

It’s extremely far from the core attributes of rock and while Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis was never anything BUT a rocker, that doesn’t mean that every last thing he ever sang in the shower or hummed to himself while stuck in traffic was a rock tune.

But along the way there will be some pretty famous records by rock stars a lot more luminous than Baby Face which will get full coverage – as expected – and so clearly exceptions can be made.

If you are against this look at Dark And Lonely Room because of its decidedly pop approach to song-making, that’s perfectly understandable and you’re free to skip over it and come back tomorrow.

For those who stick around though this performance may show just why record companies such as RCA brought in a rocker like Jimmy Lewis in the first place despite the fact that he had no viable commercial track record to capitalize on.

Their rationale for doing so surely must’ve been that he might have the ability to get the label’s foot in the door with that market while at the same time delivering some songs that they, who could care less about the artistic validity of rock ‘n’ roll, might actually approve of… such as this one.

If successful – a pretty big if – the possibility existed of capturing the rock fan’s interest with one type of song suited to those listeners’ current tastes while potentially changing their future tastes to include something more suitable for RCA’s long term plans.

Don’t laugh, it’s pretty much the same plan they hoped to enact when they signed Elvis Presley a few years down the road.

I’ll Have To Sit Here Alone And Worry Over You
If we continue with that comparison for just a second, we know that Elvis Presley had a lot of regard for what we’d generously call musical “schmaltz”.

Of course that was largely off-set by his wholehearted love for rock at its most primal, but through him you can see how those polar opposite tastes aren’t always mutually exclusive in people, which is something we can also see in Jimmy Lewis.

Yes, we can rail against RCA for maybe encouraging this type of restrained crooning, but Lewis himself wrote Dark And Lonely Room and while it’s certainly possible that Howard Biggs came up with the arrangement, it’s doubtful that Lewis envisioned it as a blistering face-paced performance, or even a brooding dirge set to a martial tempo.

So taking it at face value and attempting to see what it was that Lewis intended we can put together the pieces and maybe ascertain what parts of this were his and how RCA’s handlers interpreted those basic instructions to come up with something leaning a little too far in the pop direction.

The sparse opening notes on the piano create a good deal of tension and anticipation which promptly get upended when Biggs starts to play a more flowery type of fill behind the vocals when Lewis enters. Jimmy’s singing starts out light and airy, giving the impression he’s an hopeless – yet ineffectual – romantic. But as he reaches the title phrase he digs his heels in a little deeper, not enough to transform the underlying meaning of what he’s telling us necessarily, but just enough to help change your perception of him by stiffening his backbone a little.

His task isn’t made any easier however by the dainty arrangement with an abundance of soft horns and strings creeping up on him which cloud your view of what is otherwise a halfway decent contemplative exercise on heartbreak as written. Trade them out for one moaning tenor sax and some of his own single string guitar runs, maybe a faint organ in a few spots to create an even more haunting feel, and the same song at the same tempo takes on a different appearance.

Lewis though, even if this isn’t the way we want to hear him sing, once again shows he’s got a very good voice with admirable versatility. When contrasting this to some of his more aggressive vocals it scarcely seems like the same guy and there’s no point during this where his singing is grating or unpleasant, even to those who want music with more hair on its chest.

But the problem is of course the audience he was aligned with were comprised largely of those who DID want that uncompromised brand of singing and because this side – rather intentionally let it be said – doesn’t conform to their wishes it was bound to be cast aside.


Please Come Back To Me Soon
Whether or not that lengthy explanation as to the reasons behind such a record suffices is entirely dependent on your point of view.

If trying to justify RCA taking this route – or Jimmy Lewis on his own trying to branch out – then chances are the reasons fall flat and should’ve been vetoed by somebody with more sense than what was shown here.

After all, while you might take the “Baby Face” moniker off the label you can’t simply alter his DNA completely and have him dressed up and made acceptable for an adult white constituency that has shown little willingness to embrace most artists with his cultural background.

Conversely though, if you think of Dark And Lonely Room strictly as a way to diversify Lewis’s output… to give him additional options going forward while granting the label an “excuse” to sign and promote him in the first place, then maybe it starts to look a little more understandable.

That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea however and while we’ll spare Lewis the lowest possible grade thanks to vocal skill alone, we’ll reiterate our harsh assessment of those who seem to harbor dreams of upward mobility at the expense of proudly representing their own musical community.

As much as we warn them though we know we’ll see it again in the future. Some things never change.


(Visit the Artist page of Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)