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There are some artists, despite having very evident and diverse talents, who just never quite find their niche on record.

That’s why the word “potential” is such a double-edged sword. The fact you have it gets you opportunities, but unless you quickly live up to it you become a disappointment to many.

Jimmy Lewis could do it all. He wrote good songs, he could sing well and play the guitar better than most, yet he hasn’t yet put all of those attributes together in tight coherent fashion on single record where you felt he’d reached his full potential.

Here’s another one that falls agonizingly short.


Done Me Wrong
There’s lots of blame to go around… or perhaps no blame at all. Maybe Lewis just wasn’t focused enough on one approach to hone his craft to the point where he could best show off his skills.

Then again it’s probably the record companies fault.

This is not a sarcastic put-down of our favorite target just to shift blame away from the artists, but rather record companies became a favorite target because their missteps are so easy to see in retrospect. While you can’t fault them for not seeing into the future and knowing what changes are in store for the music down the road, it’s kind of hard to do that when you spend so much of your time glancing back at what was the accepted way to do things a few years earlier but has since lost its appeal.

That’s always been Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis’s problem… he’d come up with something really good only to see the company saddle him with an outdated arrangement or have him put down his guitar so they could focus on something not as distinctive or as good.

Here on Slippin’ And Slidin’ he’s allowed to play his guitar, but he doesn’t get to play lead guitar. For that they brought in René Hall, no slouch himself on the instrument and someone who’s shown a predilection for rock in the session work he’s done for a variety of New York labels. The thing is though, Lewis wrote the song, is singing the song and plays just as well or better than Hall and you know he wanted to prove it.

He’s a twenty year old kid for goodness sakes, of COURSE he wanted to show it off.

Instead Hall downplays the role the instrument takes in the arrangement and while it winds up being “pretty good”, Lewis needs more than “pretty good” to stand out now that Atlantic is stockpiling stars at a rapid rate.

I Guess I’ll Just Sing My Little Song
The tone of this record is is not something that, even if he’d already broken through and had widespread name recognition, would be the kind of thing to race up the charts right away. It’s a slow, introspective performance that shows a good deal of craftsmanship, emotional maturity and restraint and in the best of circumstances would probably be more admired than loved.

Despite a title that invokes wild mayhem – not to mention a certain future star whose every record was a lesson in wild mayhem – Slippin’ And Slidin’ spends its entire time in low gear, slowly unveiling itself as Lewis details the hurt of being betrayed by the girl he likes.

A frequent starting point for sure, but Lewis’s calm demeanor throws you off – and throws the girl off no doubt – as he’s trying to take this all in stride. He’s sad for sure, but not devastated by it, nor is he angry and vindictive. His low-key vocals and the sparse instrumental backing gives this the feel of a somber late night reflection staring out on the twinkling lights of the city below, still alive with movement and countless romances playing out in the distance while he’s alone with his thoughts.

All of that is really effective. It’s a delicate vibe you need to be fully committed to maintaining for it to work and he manages to nail it with understated grace, using a lighter tone coming from the back of his throat rather than his chest to give his vocals an almost translucent feel.

This is not a record to play in a crowd in other words, or for that matter a jukebox in a public place unless you have it all to yourself. If the mood breaks the song falls apart which is why finding an arrangement to compliment it is so vital.

If I Was Only King
They have the right idea with a lot of it, but they fall short in execution… not in a technical sense, as in bad playing, but rather bad decisions in WHAT they play.

Specifically the guitar.

Because the atmosphere conveyed by Slippin’ And Slidin’ is so faint as to almost be suggested rather than emphatically delivered, they may have wanted Hall – a more disciplined guitarist than the usually rambunctious Lewis – to take the lead, keeping the vibrant sting of the instrument to a minimum.

But Hall’s mistake is to treat this more as a country blues song by using such slack strings which change the mood far too much even though the overall delicate ambiance remains the same. There’s no consequences to what he’s playing basically. He’s mistaking Lewis’s lack of vocal urgency with a lack of pain over the events that took place. Obviously Jimmy is upset by it, you don’t go on and on talking to yourself in an empty room unless something is bothering you and you need to work through it, so by treating the guitar solo like an extension of the placid front he’s putting up you can’t reveal the turmoil his heart is trying to cope with.

Had he, or better yet Lewis, played the same notes with a sharper more biting edge to them, the stakes would be raised. The fact he was holding his anguish in while singing would be more apparent and the vocal performance would have a greater impact as a result because you’d see through the façade and know how much he really did care and how he was affected by her avoiding him… the Slippin’ And Slidin’, peeping and hiding, goofing and jiving, ducking and diving with him that he tells us about… doing all she could to avoid having to get really serious with him.

The rest of the arrangement suits the material well, its late night piano bar motif and barely there drums, even the occasional guitar fills during the vocals, all trying not to intrude on his thoughts. But if you’re going to have a solo and you have the guy who’s pouring his heart out like this who is more than capable of handling it on his own then that’s what you have to do. If he carried out the solo with the same subdued technique then it’s his own doing and the record’s shortcomings are his own fault, but this once again gives the impression that somebody producing felt they knew best, hurting Lewis’s chance to connect more solidly.


Don’t You Worry Me
Though this fails to fully deliver on Lewis’s potential, literally taking the means with which to do so out of his hands, it’s still a very good performance vocally and remains a solid and effective mood piece, an approach that hasn’t yet been explored as much as it could’ve been in rock to date.

But if you see a song called Slippin’ And Slidin’ and know of Lewis’s abilities with the guitar, chances are this will be another let down for the casual listener who expected something more… exhilarating out of him.

Even if you like the record its serene nature almost guarantees it’s not one that you can successfully entice others into embracing unless they encounter it while in the same state of mind and a solitary environment.

Yet even so it’s more than good enough to keep us saying that somewhere along the line his potential is bound to pay off one of these days.


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