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In the course of a prolific artist’s career there are dozens of songs being recorded that they know have little chance of becoming a hit, even in the best of circumstances.

These songs are not simply hastily conceived throwaways however, they show skill and creativity in their own right but are clearly lacking the magical spark that potential hits all seem to have.

Designed to be overlooked in many ways, they nevertheless give a pretty good indication of the artist’s competency beyond what they’re known best for.


Even Loved Her Style
Playing clubs for the better part of the 1940’s the repertoire of Smiley Lewis was understandably diverse, not just because music styles evolved over that time, but also because different venues – particularly those which catered to white audiences as opposed to black patrons – required an entirely different playlist.

Lewis’s greatest asset of course was his high pitched booming voice and the expressiveness with which he used it, diving deep into the emotional stakes of the songs, whether pop crooning or pure blues.

When rock ‘n’ roll came along in 1947 Lewis finally got his chance to cut records and fit seamlessly into the emerging genre but there were still elements contained within certain songs and deliveries that hinted at past musical structures.

If You Ever Loved A Woman is one such record, something that while relatively modern in its approach is still rooted in a long tradition of downcast bluesy ballads, something which probably ensured that it’d seem just a little “off” to those seeking a more forward looking sound as 1950 began to wind down.


Ain’t But One Thing For You To Do
Those horns opening this up, not quite crying, certainly not wailing… more like whining actually, starts this off on rather uncertain footing, almost as if it were going to be hurtling you backwards through time.

But it does fit the song’s subject and once established it leaves that dated veneer behind as the tenor sax starts to grind away behind Lewis’s plaintive vocals, thereby establishing a much firmer link to the present.

From there on in however it’s a pretty stock arrangement from Dave Bartholomew, taking no chances and offering no surprises as Tuts Washington fills in the cracks on piano and various horns add intermittent melodic splashes like a passing rain shower. Because there’s no stronger current to ride however, If You Ever Loved A Woman isn’t going to grab you with its musical attributes, which means it’s up to Smiley Lewis, both his lyrics and his voice, to hold your interest.

Unfortunately neither one quite does that, though neither of them fall woefully short in their attempt either.

This is a standard “done me wrong” story where Smiley is dealing with an unfaithful woman and rather than be in anguish over this affair, or get angry and have it out with her, he seems to take it in stride and simply makes up his mind to leave her for her transgressions.

We can’t question his decision, or even find too much fault with his curious lack of emotion at times, but rather we wonder who this is intended for. Chances are it’s for himself, not us, as he’s working through his feelings in real time, alternating his rather cold put-down of her with more impassioned insistence that he really did love her, calling her “baby” a number of times as he’s headed out the door.

Because his mindset seems to shift more than once over the course of the song it’s probably more realistic than those which find a certain tone and stick with it, after all people generally swing from one extreme to the other whenever they’re dealing with unexpectedly sad news, but just because it’s authentic doesn’t mean it makes for a better record.

Had he stuck more with one perspective, be it anger, casual disdain or sadness, and then worked to emphasize that through his vocals and the band’s performance, it’d have been an easier record to connect with even if it was more artificial. But it’s hard to fault him for this because that’s always a tricky balance to maintain as a writer of any kind of fiction – believability versus clarity, complexity versus simplicity, etc.

Just like dialogue on screen that’s too real would be boring as hell to listen to (try reading a transcribed real life conversation and see how many “umms” and ”ahhs” and irrelevant tangents are in there) the same is true for songs. The ideal song lyrics or on-screen dialogue has the appearance of reality while being much more focused in how it’s being conveyed and this song falls short in that area.

Since it also has no real hook, nor any memorable solos, even the stop-time section is somewhat underwhelming due to the instruments chosen, it becomes a song that you listen to without really hearing, or at least without it sinking in. Capably performed but ultimately fleeting.


If That’s The Way You Want It To Be
There are times as an artist you can do everything right in a technical sense and still not forge a connection with a listener.

The song’s theme can be fine, its lyrics tell an acceptable story, the vocal delivery conveys the right mood and the musical backing suits what they’re trying to put across and yet… and yet… it still falls flat.

If You Ever Loved A Woman is clearly one of those times.

In many ways it hardly seems fair to dish out mild criticism to an artist for doing precisely what it set out to do without any major slip ups, yet if a record doesn’t provoke a strong response – good or bad – then it helps to explain why it was destined to serve as a forgotten B-side to a much better song.

I wouldn’t expect anyone to really object to hearing this but I’d be equally surprised if anybody reserved a spot for it in their upper echelon of Smiley Lewis recordings.

If a record was an emoji this would be a shrug.


(Visit the Artist page of Smiley Lewis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)