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Oh boy…

Just when we finish praising Jimmy Lewis for finally finding his true artistic voice… for establishing the type of musical direction he should pursue from this point forward… he turns around and heads somewhere else entirely.

And not just ANY place, but down a road that threatens to take him into squaresville… Pop Music at its most sickeningly vapid.

In one fell swoop, all of our defenses over Lewis’s shortcomings and our steadfast belief in his abilities are trampled on by Jimmy himself.

Maybe it’s time we face facts and admit that Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis’s biggest obstacle was… himself.


In The Evening
This is normally the kind of sappy record we would completely bypass, not only because it’s so bad, but because it’s so far removed from rock’s essential core elements.

But there’s good reason why it’s being reviewed and that reason is not simply to take pot-shots at a person we now have reason to feel has betrayed us with their musical choices, but rather because to truly tell why someone failed you need to actually examine their failures!

And make no mistake about it, I’ll Be Faithful To You was a failure in every way, up to and including the painful irony of the title itself which is like the final twist of the knife in our back for our vociferous championing of his talent.

But even this turnabout helps to explain why Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis was destined to be a musical vagabond.

For all of his gifts – as a singer, as a songwriter, as a guitarist – he was someone who never had a consistent preference for what he wanted to do. He’d rock hard one minute, then croon softly the next, he’d wield his guitar like a machete on one song, then let it collect dust on the follow-up.

Usually having diverse interests in life or in music is a virtue, but it first requires having a firm sense of who you are as a person or as an artist so the smaller deviations are seen as interesting rather than schizophrenic. Yet it’s now becoming increasingly clear that Lewis had no idea who he wanted to be from one day to the next.

Or in this case, from one side of a single to the next.


Whatever You Do…
Here’s where we’re compelled to state the obligatory “make sure you give audiences two different sounding songs on each single” spiel, which Jimmy Lewis certainly does here. What we forgot to add in that frequently referenced advice – because it seemed so obvious that we never felt it necessary to elaborate on – was that you better make sure each side is suitable for rock audiences if you’re going to compete in this field.

That’s the catch that frequently ensnared The Ravens, The Orioles and other pop-aspiring vocal groups but rarely impacted solo artists, especially those like Lewis who had the added hole card of playing an incendiary guitar which could always be used as a focal point for a second side, like say an instrumental or even a bluesier side if you wanted to diversify his output in terms of genre appeal.

Instead I’ll Be Faithful To You finds Lewis laying down his guitar altogether – and all but throwing in the towel on his rock aspirations – with a breathy vocal ballad that is as close to pure pop as he – or anyone else for that matter – was capable of… in fact almost comically so.

Of course Howard Biggs, who oversaw this session and had plenty of experience at ruining The Ravens early output with sappy arrangements for their pop leaning sides, is enthusiastic to show off his appreciation of this kind of tripe, writing horn charts that would pass muster with any major label for their insipid blandness, while proudly taking the supper club piano parts himself. Even the sax solo sounds like a dying animal on the Serengeti.

But we can’t fully blame Howard Biggs for this because the song was written entirely by Jimmy Lewis himself… although it would seem that he actually lifted most of the lyrics from the pile of rejected submissions to the Hallmark greeting card company as even they wouldn’t be caught dead publishing such lame sentiments as “Wherever you go, whatever you do, I want you to know I’ll be faithful to you”.

Now, to be fair, these kinds of emotionless declarations were the entire foundation of the nuclear family ideal that America was foisting upon the country in the early 1950’s – a well dressed mother pouring milk for their beaming child – but we just never expected “Baby Face”, an eventual felon who was caught with almost a quarter of a million bucks of dope (in 1963, when drugs were a lot cheaper than they are today!), to buy into such fairy tales.

Who knows though, maybe he was writing this as a way to build his alibi and establish a credible character defense for his future endeavors.

Not That Way
Now you can say that Lewis sings this in a way that is technically sound, if not aesthetically pleasing. You can also make the argument that it’s got a melody that won’t turn your stomach… if you can get past the violins and trumpets that is. Maybe you might even try and suggest that Lewis doesn’t really mean any of this, that he’s merely trying to get a girl into bed and she’s resisted his cruder entreaties at the bar or nightclub and so he’s trying again with a more refined approach.

All of which may be true, but Jimmy, here’s some advice for you, free of charge. No midnight tryst is worth degrading yourself by acting like this. In fact, even if you DID get her into bed chances are that if she agreed because of any of the drivel you’re spouting on I’ll Be Faithful To You she wouldn’t be worth it.

This is the kind of music they use in operating rooms when they’ve run out of anesthesia – guaranteed to put you under.

Speaking of being put under… no matter how good Jimmy Lewis sounded on the top half of this release, if this was the kind of thing he was going to try his hand at then he’s all but guaranteed that his career will be the next thing that goes under.


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