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What on earth is this?

Some daring experiment or wayward choice of a directionless artist?

An interesting curio or an utter waste of time?

All questions that promise the breakdown of what’s to follow will be intriguing even if the record itself isn’t quite worth the trouble.


To Stay Out At Night
One of the things that seemed to perpetually vex Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis was how far-flung his ideas were. Rather than find a core musical attribute and work to perfect that, using it to define himself artistically and THEN branch out to offer an occasional left field selection to keep you just a little off balance and to explore his other interests, Lewis was bypassing the first component of that and focusing entirely on the second.

Meaning his artistic identity was that of restless curiosity.

He was probably best suited to be a hard driving guitar rocker, a more urbane Goree Carter most likely, but instead of pursuing that with any consistency he would come up with songs like I’ve Got A Right To Love which sounded almost as if he were toying with the idea of becoming a crooning pop singer without giving in to the more saccharine arranging choices that usually went with such a decision.

The song is light and airy as he doubles down on the higher pitched back of the throat vocal technique he showed on the flip, Slippin’ And Slidin’… except this is even more delicate in its delivery.

It’s not quite falsetto, nor is it whispered, yet at times it veers close to both of those descriptions and as a result is a little unsettling. It’s ghostly enough to have been recorded in a graveyard… the way he delivers the line “Say you’ll be my love” is particularly chilling.

It takes on an eerie haunting quality for much of it and you assume he’s trying to be poignant in his delivery but isn’t sure how to best accomplish that and unaware that his vocal limitations won’t fully let him pull this off without a hitch. He’s got a good voice and it’s ironically when he sticks with the unnatural highs that he comes across best, almost like he’s an actor taking on the qualities of another singer for a part, but it’s when he drops into a more normal tone of voice that he loses us, not only because it breaks the mood but because he’s not able to shift registers smoothly enough to carry it off.

Yet Lewis the singer is still the best part of this record, while Lewis the songwriter has a good idea – a young kid asserting his rights to pursue romance – but the lyrics are clumsy at times. He repeats the word love so many times over the course of the song, including repeatedly referring to making love, four times in a single stanza, that you wish you spent your money on this record to buy him a thesaurus instead.

He’s so sincere though that you can’t help but find it modestly appealing and as he gets more worked up down the stretch it starts to come together thematically, as it shows that he’s really just frustrated over his lack of success with the ladies and rather than get sore about it, he thought acting mystified by it might win him a date… who knows, he might have something there.


Just You And Me
Lewis’s role aside, this is basically a light jazz or cocktail blues arrangement with a few pop touches, none of which leave much of an impression on you. It’s like a light mist that you feel on your skin without really getting wet.

I’ve Got A Right To Love is sort of a daydream set to music when you get right down to it. While it seems as if he’s speaking to a girl he’s doing so metaphorically, the words are meant for every girl he passes on the street, not one in particular.

So the distant vibe the band wants to give off is the right idea but it’s far too fleeting a sound. It’s framed by a supper club piano, you know the scene: a guy playing soft and slow while most of the people in the joint are talking and flirting in clustered groups by the bar and (since this was 1951) inhaling enough cigarette smoke to ensure their death from lung cancer by 1958… all while mostly ignoring the piano in the corner.

It was there simply to provide background noise… though noise is a misnomer, more like a background murmur so that while you’re waiting for your date to return you aren’t enveloped in silence.

Likewise René Hall’s guitar is too distant and discreet. Its hollow tone never makes an imprint on you, there’s nothing being played to contrast with Lewis’s hushed vocals and so it merely blends in. The band is incidental, not getting in the way of the singing but hardly adding anything to it either.

A Right To Sigh, To Cry, Even Up And Die
They all had to know this was going to be dead on arrival commercially, which is probably why Atlantic held it back eight whole months after it was recorded, finally releasing it as a B-side afterthought.

Certainly it had little place in rock ‘n’ roll, outside of the confused youthful sentiments at least, and with such sparse instrumentation there was nothing to distract you from the somewhat awkward revealing nature of his plea.

But while I’ve Got A Right To Love is hardly a hit sound in any field, it’s not a terrible attempt at doing something creative, trying to hit on something unique enough to help him stand out.

We’d argue with Jimmy Lewis that this was not what he should be working on until he had at least four or five legitimate hits under his belt – he has none in case you were wondering – but because it’s so out of the ordinary I’d probably rather hear this than yet another run-of-the-mill breakup song with a downcast mood and by-the-numbers arrangement that dozens of others have tried and failed to make anything special out of over the years.

That doesn’t mean this is something you’d listen to more than once or twice, but while it doesn’t succeed it’s not for lack of effort and that’s better than nothing.


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