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Despite being continually undercut, if not outright sabotaged, by each of his record labels in his brief career, teenager singer and guitarist Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis has remained stubbornly experimental with his compositions.

This is a record that would seem at home five years later, an eternity in rock ‘n’ roll, but oddly enough it’s not with a raving uptempo guitar-driven track as you’d expect, but rather a wistful ballad which is one more reason why as tempting as it can be sometimes to pigeonhole artists based on their dominant traits, it’s best to allow their creative decisions to speak for them when figuring out how to think of them in the big picture.


My Heart Once Bled
Though admittedly we just spent an entire review yesterday criticizing Atlantic Records for failing to come up with a more suitable arrangement for the top side of this single which would allow Lewis to exhibit his strengths as an artist, namely his guitar wizardry and his uptempo singing style, we’re now going to praise a track for containing neither of those.

Call us hypocrites if you wish but the real knock against All The Fun’s On Me was that what they came up with emphasized his worst traits rather than his best and just didn’t suit Lewis’s style at all.

With I’m Still In Love however they remedy that despite a) not giving his own guitar the lead, but instead ceding that role to René Hall, and b) slowing down this track even more, making it another ballad rather than something with some energy behind it.

Yet what makes it work in spite of those red flags is just how radically different Lewis himself approaches this song, delivering it in a breathy higher range that he hardly seems suited for but which he somehow pulls off with endearing charm all the same.

As game plans go this was decidedly risky, but just as the top side’s failures should’ve been evident on the studio floor and necessitated a drastic rearrangement to try and make it work, it’s just as clear that this side of the record was perfect just as it was.

Not a perfect record mind you, but rather a case where you’re getting the best version of THIS Baby Face Lewis that he was capable of delivering which turns out to be more than enough to keep you hooked.


Here I Stand
I don’t know if it’s the fragile voice and shaky control over that voice which is strongly reminiscent of the massive mid-50’s youth movement in rock vocal group circles, or if it’s the somewhat skeletal musical arrangement that uses delicate guitar fills as its primary accompaniment, but there’s a definite 1955 feel to this even though it still has attributes to tie it in with 1950 as well.

What’s so striking about it all though is the vulnerability of Lewis as he sings. Not yet out of his teens, Lewis had sounded twenty years older on the other side and even at his best in the past he rarely came across as a kid his own age, a combination of song content and his natural lower vocal range and the nasal tone which made him hard to get an accurate read on him. But here he strips away all of that baggage and reveals himself to be a far more typical teenager in every way.

His songwriting was always an underrated facet of his résumé, even if he was often done in by poor arrangements which sort of obscured the strength of his compositions. On paper the lyrics to I’m Still In Love seem pretty simplistic and even fairly trite at a glance, but ballads are crafted as much for the tenderness of the deliveries and interpretations of the sentiments as they are the words themselves and as long as he finds ways to craft the story to suit that delivery he’s doing alright.

But Lewis does more than that this time out, showing the tenuous nature of love and the emotional impact that devotion which isn’t reciprocated can have on someone. He’s been lied to by this girl and his heart’s been broken completely by her deceit yet he’s still obsessed with her.

Is it futile for him to express these feelings to her now? Absolutely. Is it even somewhat self-destructive to put himself out there emotionally like this when he knows it’s going to be in vain? Yeah, definitely.

But is this kind of “love is blind” belief he clings to in spite of her rejection of him realistic? Of course it is and he doesn’t shy away from that in the least. He knows he’s going to regret publicly declaring his love for her in this way down the road but in the moment he can’t live with the burden it places on his soul to keep it to himself. If he was told there was a one in a million chance she’d hear it and reconsider he’d double down on his bet without hesitation, as would a lot of love-struck teenagers who think that first aching crush you feel for someone is the be-all, end-all in the relationship sweepstakes.

Because of that there’s no self-consciousness in him as he lays his heart on the line and no thought as to what he’ll do when it fails to elicit a response from her, he’s totally immersed in the moment and listening to him you’re immersed in it too, even if we’re far too smart (or cynical and experienced) to know how his story is going to end… we want to hear him work through it all the same.

You Said You Were Mine
Of course it helps if our comfort level with this kind of naked emotional plea can be soothed with music that’s sympathetic to his plight and thanks to René Hall that’s most definitely the case here.

Though Jimmy Lewis has proven to be an exemplary and versatile guitarist in his own right when actually allowed to play – on aggressive tracks where his slashing style provides a jolt while his slower single string runs were fraught with tension – there’s no question that Hall was equally skilled and versatile, and surely more disciplined.

It’s interesting that this was the only session in his career for which Lewis didn’t handle lead guitar, which is a disappointment in that he’s only got a handful of tracks over an all-too short time in the studio with which to appreciate him, but Hall’s presence on I’m Still In Love is unquestionably one of the song’s greatest attributes.

Maybe Lewis would’ve turned in a similar performance, or one that wrung out his deepest feelings even more poignantly than Hall managed, but since that’s just speculation it’s far better to study what René Hall contributed and revel in his own brand of genius.

The drawn-out notes over the first third of the record give the impression that Hall is responding to Lewis’s vocal lines in real time, as in hearing them, absorbing their meaning and immediately coming up with an appropriate reply to mirror the sentiments Lewis is sharing.

The two of them are simpatico in every way, right down to their respective tones, as Hall plays with a slightly hollow resonance that allows the notes to hang in the air like the bubbles blown by countless kids playing in the backyard on endless summer days. It’s such a delicate mood he creates that you dare not breathe too heavily for fear of bursting those bubbles and his light touch seems to keep Lewis spellbound as well, forcing him to take his time so as not to upset the tranquility of their performance.

When Hall starts to throw in a few more splashy lines it’s noticeable but still done in moderation and he smartly sits out the vocal bridge and lets the piano handle the backing along with the faint sleepwalking drumming before Hall eases back into the song as Lewis is wrapping up the vocal section.

From there Hall takes a solo which is both ear-catching in the purity of the notes he’s playing, yet still discreet in how they’re presented. It clearly is Les Paul inspired in how it’s carried out but handled with an even gentler touch, as Hall seems to caress each note from the strings rather than squeeze them out, letting you appreciate each one in virtual isolation before the next comes falling down from the heavens.

By the end of the song you’re mesmerized by the combined effect the two of them have on your senses and if Lewis is a bit too naïve for you in the harsh light of day and Hall’s too demure if your tastes run to harsher fretwork after dark at a roadhouse, it’s doubtful that if you’ve been listening closely to them weave their magic you’ll be asking for your money back.

By All The Stars Up Above
Thus far we’ve given a few scores to Lewis where we’ve hedged a bit before deciding to bump them up to the green numbers, feeling in those cases that his parts were worth rewarding even if other aspects of the records were a bit less deserving of the acclaim.

Call it rewarding potential in those cases and leave it at that.

But with I’m Still In Love we’re not in any way reluctant to hand out that score even though this is so atypical compared to what he’s shown before.

In some ways maybe this validates that view of his potential, even if no one sensed he was capable of this kind of song until now, but that’s also what makes music in general so special… the surprises that await you along the way.

We’ve been let down by Lewis – or those around him – plenty of times in the past and at a certain point you become frustrated with the shortcomings and are ready to stop making excuses and start viewing him as a veritable bust for not seizing the initiative in the studio and forcing others to conform to his musical vision. Yet with this song he winds up being rewarded for not picking that fight and consequently delivers his most fully realized performance to date.

It might not be what Jimmy Lewis does best in a vacuum all things considered, but in the recording studio this is the best he’s sounded and ultimately we’re all judged on what we accomplish, not what we might deliver in ideal circumstances. Once again, just as we were about ready to dismiss him for what he wasn’t doing, this shows us what he was doing might be worth sticking around for after all.


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