Jimmy Lewis is absolutely in the first rank of down-home soul philosophers - in the company of such great figures as Joe Tex, George Jackson, Don Covay and Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams. This CD follows on from the critically acclaimed Still Wanna Be Black (CDKEND 153) set of a couple of years ago, and will surely enhance his reputation even further. Long a back-room hero to discerning fans, this collection, which features many never-heard-before songs, highlights just how scandalously he has been under recorded during his 40 years in the biz.
For, in addition to showcasing the kind of gritty, hoarse vocals that you expect from a soul singer of his generation and Mississippi birthplace, Give The Poor Man A Break is a shop window for his astonishingly creative song writing talents. Such stars as Ray Charles, ZZ Hill, Bobby Womack and Johnnie Taylor may have covered his material, but, in truth, there is nothing like a Lewis demo for bringing out the subtleties of his own songs. And there is plenty of evidence to back up that statement here, from the brilliant Three Into Two Won't Go, and the southern funk of Things Got To Get Better to Careful Man, one of his very best numbers, superbly crafted.
In 1974, around the time that much of the material here was penned and recorded, Lewis had this to say about his own approach to writing, All my songs tell stories and then everything else is built around that story. I don't write things that deal with present situations like a Watergate, etc, because they become dated. My songs are about life. I am a prolific 'life writer', just like you live it and just like it's happening." This is perfectly illustrated in one of only two tracks here that ever appeared on vinyl, the top side of his one Volt 45 Stop Half Loving These Women. This vintage performance also features one of his most effective tricks, multi-tracking his own vocals so that the song seems to be a conversation between two or even three people. This gives the feeling of a discussion on a street corner or a bit of banter in a neighbourhood bar, the concerns of his audience made all the more real.
As an observer of the social scene - particularly as it relates to those two obsessions of everyday life, love and money - Lewis is among the most acute of all southern black writers. A subtitle to this CD would be "The Wit And Wisdom Of Jimmy Lewis", a combination much to be welcomed in these days of rather cruder sexual imagery that pervades the urban charts.
By John Ridley