LEWIS BALOUE-ROMANTIC TIMES.

LEWIS BALOUE-ROMANTIC TIMES.

Earlier this year, music saw a ghost. The man who called himself Lewis arose from the dead. Lewis gave no explanation where he’d been or what he’d been doing. There was an element of bemusement that L’Amour, his 1983 debut album, had sparked such interest in his life and whereabouts. However, Lewis wasn’t for talking. Furthermore, he wanted his whereabouts to remain unknown. For someone who seemed to want to disappear again, Lewis was going the wrong way about it. 

Deep down, I wondered if he was revelling in the publicity? This was his fifteen minutes of fame. He’d really lucked out.

Thirty-one years ago. Lewis released an album that sunk without trace. It wasn’t the music that people remembered. No. It was his image and playboy lifestyle. This was a story full of smoke and mirrors. 

Nothing was ever as it seemed. The story began  when Randall arrived in Los Angeles in 1983. Sporting perfectly coiffured blonde hair and movie star looks, Lewis lived the playboy lifestyle. Randall drove a white convertible Mercedes and booked into the Beverley Hilton. 

Now ensconced in the  Beverley Hilton, Randall dated a string of beautiful women. Models and movie stars accompanied him to the smartest parties in Los Angeles. Randall lived the playboy lifestyle. Wine, women and song were constant companions for Randall. However, before long, the party was over.

During his time in Los Angeles, Randall had been using the alias Lewis. He told people he was a musician and that he’d just recorded his debut album, L’Amour. That at least was true. 

The recording sessions for L’Amour took place in the Fiasco Brothers Recording Studios in Vancouver, where Romantic Times was also recorded. Randall had recorded there before. After that, Randall headed to Los Angeles. That’s where he readied himself for release  Lewis’ debut album, L’Amour. Rather than using his own name, Randall used the alias Lewis. This added to the air of mystery. So did the album cover, which was shot by one of the most famous photographers in music, Ed Colver. 

He’d made his name photographing punk bands. That was the past. By 1983, Ed was expanding his musical portfolio. So when Randall called, Ed agreed to meet him in the Beverley Hilton. 

When the two met, Ed wasn’t suspicious of Randall. Why should he be? After all, Randall was living in the Beverley Hilton, driving a Mercedes convertible and had a beautiful, model girlfriend. He’d also just recorded his debut album and was looking for someone to shoot some photographs for the cover of L’Amour. That would be Ed. 

Randall agreed to pay Ed $250 for the photo shoot. Ed shot thirty different versions of the photo that agreed on the cover of L’Amour. It was a head and shoulders photo of Randall. That photo epitomises eighties fashion and attitudes. Looking like the archetypal eighties playboy. Randall looks longingly, moodily and mysteriously into the distance. However, just like everything else about Randall, this was all a facade.

When Ed went to cash the cheque for $250 it bounced. The cheque had been drawn on an account in Malibu. This was no help to Ed. So he headed to where Ed had met Randall, the Beverley Hilton. Staff at the Beverley Hilton told Ed that Randall had left. Randall, they told him, had headed to Las Vegas and then Hawaii. They didn’t have a forwarding address. For Ed this was a disaster. $250 was lot of money. So much, it took him four months to repay his bank. As security, Ed held on to the negatives to the photos for L’Amour, which was released in 1983.

L’Amour was released in 1983, on the unknown R.A.W. Records. No reviews of L’Amour exist. Just like most private pressings, L’Amour sunk without trace. That was the last Ed Colver thought he’d hear of Lewis.

Fast forward thirty-one years and L’Amour has just been rereleased by Light In The Attic Records. The Lewis story caught the imagination of the record buying public. Suddenly, everyone wanted to know what happened to Lewis. Not me.

I wasn’t interested in the smoke and mirrors of the Lewis story. It smelt suspiciously of hype. Something about the story didn’t seem right. There were too many unanswered questions. It seemed I was right.

Not long after I wrote my review, I forgot about the Lewis story.  To be honest, the story didn’t interest me. What interests me is music, not smoke, mirrors, hype and hyperbole. So, having reviewed L’Amour I forgot about the story. Then I received an email from Donna, who had dated Lewis in the seventies. Back then, he was Randall Aldon Wulff. 

Donna emailed me to tell me that Randall wasn’t related to Doris Duke, the heiress. That was part of the Lewis mythology. Previously, Randall claimed he was the nephew of heiress of Doris Duke. She was heir to the Duke Power fortune and a legendary philanthropist. I knew that the Doris Duke connection was a long-shot. Donna confirmed I was right to be suspicious.

The picture Donna painted about Randall Wulff was very different to the playboy who walked into the Beverley Hilton in 1983. Donna dated Randall for three years. During that time, “we were constantly broke… What kept us together was our mutual quest for sex, drugs and rock and roll… Randy was an attractive, sweet, artistic soul but uninterested in persuing an income through the construction trades and unable to make any money softly singing his original songs and playing his guitar.” Eventually, Unable to tolerate  our precarious financial situation any longer, I split up with him in 1977 or 1978 and he left Victoria.” That wasn’t the last Donna saw of Randall. 

Two years later, and Randall reentered Donna’s life. “I saw him again around 1980 when he returned to Victoria and called me. We met for dinner.  He was with his older brother, Larry Wulff, who had been living “up island” on Vancouver Island and they were travelling in a limousine and seemed to have lots of money.” It seemed Randall had undergone a remarkable transformation since Randall and Donna split up. That was the last time Donna heard from Randall. That’s until he released his debut album.

Not long after Lewis released his debut album, Randall reentered Donna’s life. She remembers: “later in the 80s, he sent me a vinyl copy of his LP L’Amour.” However, that was the last Donna heard from Randall Wulff.  “I never saw him again.” After that, Randall disappeared.

Nothing was heard of Randall Wulff or Lewis. It was even feared that Randall was dead. That’s what Donna believed. Others believed Randall had decided to disappear. Rumours were rife. Soon, a new industry had sprung up, with people dedicating their lives to finding Lewis. Ironically, nobody found Lewis. Instead, Lewis stepped briefly out of the shadows.

This just happened to coincide with the upcoming release of Lewis’ sophomore album Romantic Times by Light In The Attic Records. Romantic Times was released by Light In The Attic Records on 6th October 2014. However, the discovery of Romantic Times is shrouded in mystery.

Copies of what was thought to be Lewis’ sophomore album Romantic Times had turned out when Lewis stepped briefly out of the shadows. This is quite a coincidence. Indeed, what better way to promote Romantic Times, an album that originally, sunk without trace when it was released in 1985. However, just like everything to do with the Lewis story, nothing is straightforward. Two versions of how Romantic Times was discovered exist.

The first is that a Canadian record collector found a copy of Romantic Times, an album released by Lewis Baloue in 1985 and sold it to Light In The Attic Records. That sounds the most likeliest outcome. After all, dedicated crate diggers who look long and hard enough, will always have the opportunity to discover that elusive rare albums. After all, surely it’s not as easy as finding a copy of Romantic Times on Ebay?

That’s the second version of the story behind the discovery of Romantic Times. Allegedly, a copy of Romantic Times was offered for sale on eBay. To say a bidding frenzy followed is to put it mildly. The price reached $1,725. This is similar to what happened when copies of L’Amour were discovered. Nothing it seems was ever straightforward in the Lewis story. 

Since the discovery of Romantic Times, many people have expectantly awaited its release. Adding to the hype, is the release being put back several times. This lead me to wonder whether Romantic Times would live up to the hype and hyperbole? Or would L’Amour prove to be Lewis’ very brief moment in the sun? That’s what I’ll tell you.

We Danced All Night opens Romantic Times. Swells and swathes of synthetic strings add an element of theatre, before Lewis dawns the role of wistful troubadour. His vocal is half-spoken. Meanwhile, cymbals resonate and an acoustic guitar is plucked. Later, a sultry saxophone adds to the sense of melancholy as a crooning Lewis lays bare his troubled soul.

As Bon Voyage unfolds, a moody backdrop of synths provides the backdrop for Lewis. Then, Lewis dawns the role of troubled troubadour. Subtle, understated synths accompany Lewis’ needy, hopeful vocal. Longing and desperation fill his voice. He made mistakes. So did she. Only now does he realise what he’s lost. That’s why now, his vocal is filled with longing, at the love he lost and the future he could’ve had.

The arrangement to Don’t Stop It Now meanders into being. Synths provide the backdrop to Lewis needy, heartfelt vocal. They’re joined by synthetic strings. Together, they provide a backdrop to Lewis’ quivering, shimmering vocal. It’s a mixture of insecurity and sensuality as he desperately pleads “Don’t Stop It Now.”

Just like the previous tracks, the tempo to It’s A New Day is slow. Synth provide an accompaniment to Lewis’ scatted vocal. Before long, his vocal becomes breathy, needy and hurt. His heart has been broken. It’s as if his life is in pieces. His vocal is akin to a cathartic outpouring of grief, longing and hurt. 

There’s a sense of foreboding as dark synths and swathes of synthetic strings join forces on So Be In Love With You. They’re joined by Lewis’ vocal. It quivers and shivers. Emotion seems to pour from Lewis’ every pore. Meanwhile, swathes of strings cascade and a hauntingly beautiful saxophone solo plays. This is the perfect accompaniment to Lewis’ vocal on this spellbindingly beautiful track.

On Bringing You A Rose, Lewis’ shimmering vocal takes centre-stage. The synths and keyboards provide a mesmeric, minimalist backdrop. This allows Lewis to dawn the role of seducer in chief.

A wistful backdrop to Where Did My Love Go finds Lewis in a reflective mood. He’s had his heartbroken. There’s a sense of disbelief that this has happened. It’s as if he can hardly believe it. Deep down though, he knows it’s real. That’s why he’s hurting so much. His vocal is cathartic. It’s an outpouring of disbelief, hurt and regret. For the newly heartbroken, this is a song that will strike a chord with them.

As The Boats Go Away closes Romantic Times. A  plucked guitar, the occasional washes of synths and Lewis’ scatted vocal combine. The spacious arrangement meanders. You wonder where it’s heading? Briefly, it loses direction. Then it gets back on track. Mostly, it’s just Lewis’ vocal and a sparse acoustic guitar. This is a welcome change from the omnipresent eighties synths. The result is compelling and  moving.

Romantic Times finds Lewis pick up where he left off on  L’Amour. This means minimalist, understated arrangements. Mostly, it’s just synths. While they’re similar to L’Amour, sometimes, the arrangements sound dated. 

The synths sounds are very much a remnant of the eighties. Even when occasionally, strings are added, they too, have a synthetic sound. It’s just a pity Lewis didn’t try to change his sound. Maybe of course, Romantic Times was recorded at the same time as L’Amour? After all, it’s not as of the two years between album resulted in a change in Lewis’ sound. A welcome addition is the occasional saxophone or acoustic guitar that accompanies Lewis’ vocal. 

Lewis’ vocals are similar in style to those on L’Amour. My only complaint is sometimes, his trademark style becomes a mumble. Mostly, though, we’re reacquainted with the Lewis who made his debut on L’Amour.

This means emotive, hopeful, needy and seductive. Especially when Lewis sings about heartbreak, hope and hurt. He delivers lyrics like he’s lived, loved and survived them. Other times his vocal is rueful, as he sings about love lost, and the woman who broke, or stole his heart. Often, there’s a sense of melancholia, as he remembers what he’s lost. That’s the case on Romantic Times, which sounds like a lost concept album. 

That describes Romantic Times perfectly. It’s a concept album about love. Love and love lost, to heartbreak and hurt feature on Romantic Times. It showcases Lewis the troubadour and seducer in chief. However, these are roles that Lewis embraces. The result is an album for lovers and those who are newly heartbroken. 

They’ll be won over by Lewis the troubadour. So will Lewis’ fans, who will have nothing said against their elusive hero. However, if they cast a critical eye over Romantic Times, it’s a case that not everything glitters is gold.

Romantic Times is a good, but not great album. It’s not as good as L’Amour. Partly, it’s because Lewis stood still. He didn’t try and move his music on. This seems a strange decision.

In 1983, L’Amour sunk without trace. Most musicians would’ve learnt from this, and changed stylistically. Not Lewis. When he returned in 1985 with Romantic Times, Lewis delivered what’s essentially L’Amour II. The same building blocks have been used. That means washes of minimalist synths accompanying Lewis’ trademark vocal. Unsurprisingly, Romantic Times also sunk without trace. For Lewis, Romantic Times, may have been the end of the road.

I say may have. Nobody knows for sure, if Randall Wulff recorded any further albums under his Lewis persona. Lewis is a ghost. Maybe in more than one sense. After all, music is full of ghosts nowadays. If Lewis recorded further albums, unless he changed his sound, it would be a case of the law of diminishing returns. That’s apparent on Romantic Times. It’s a good, but not great album that doesn’t match its predecessor. Even the incessant hype, smoke, mirrors and mystery that surrounds Lewis, can’t transform Romantic Times into a classic.  

LEWIS BALOUE-ROMANTIC TIMES.

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