Jerry Lee Lewis
Mean Old Man
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2011, Volume 18, #1
Written by John Metzger
Mon January 24, 2011, 06:30 AM CST
Spreading 66 tracks across a trio of discs, A Half Century of Hits effectively demonstrated that Jerry Lee Lewis was a remarkably consistent (and forceful) presence throughout his career. Nevertheless, his profile had sunk so absurdly low that a comeback collection was long overdue. Issued in 2006, Last Man Standing united Lewis with a parade of all-star talent. Although it could have been fraught with any number of missteps, miscues, and otherwise uninspired celebrity appearances, it actually fared quite well, proving that Lewis was still capable of raising an enormous ruckus.
On his latest set Mean Old Man, Lewis follows a nearly identical formula. Not only is he surrounded by another batch of high-profile guest stars, but they also are largely the same crew that appeared on Last Man Standing. Yet, instead of sounding like he merely is going through the motions, Lewis appears to be fully reinvigorated and revitalized. For several reasons, Mean Old Man isn’t redundant, either. Lewis not only views his legacy from a slightly different perspective, but he also raised the stakes and made an album that surprisingly is even better than its predecessor.
Like Last Man Standing, Mean Old Man showcases Lewis’ vibrantly rebellious, rock ’n‘ roll tendencies. Joined by Eric Clapton and James Burton, he captures the magic of Sun Studios on an electrifying rendition of You Can Have Her. Elsewhere, with Kid Rock and Slash, he places a charge into an updated version of Rockin’ My Life Away, and sparked by the presence of Ringo Starr and John Mayer, he tears into Roll Over Beethoven with a vengeance.
Just a few weeks after Mean Old Man was released, Lewis turned 75. For certain, his voice has been beaten down by age. Nevertheless, the urgency of the music on Mean Old Man succeeds in revealing the snarling danger that still lurks beneath the surface of his delivery. Consequently, Lewis sounds quite comfortable when he delves into the Rolling Stones’ songbook for inebriated covers of Dead Flowers and Sweet Virginia. Appropriately enough, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, respectively, provided him with dutiful support. Ron Wood makes an appearance, too, lending his assistance to the collection’s title track.
For the most part, though, Mean Old Man emphasizes the kinds of country-oriented textures that have framed most of Lewis’ output over the past several decades. He slows down to savor the anguish of Middle Age Crazy (with Tim McGraw) and I Really Don’t Want to Know (with Gillian Welch). By contrast, Lewis and Sheryl Crow enliven You Are My Sunshine with a New Orleans-inspired groove. Lewis also finds salvation on Railroad to Heaven and Will the Circle Be Unbroken. The former track features Solomon Burke, while the latter tune brings Mavis Staples, Robbie Robertson, and Nils Lofgren into the tent.
Containing 18 tracks, it is easy to dismiss the deluxe edition of Mean Old Man, simply because some of the songs that Lewis tackles — Bad Moon Rising with John Fogerty and Whiskey River with Willie Nelson, for example — initially seem to be absurdly obvious selections. Even so, Lewis and his accomplices effectively discharge the criticism with their flawless execution. Viewed from any perspective, Mean Old Man is a masterful late-career gem from a man who helped define the very foundation of rock ’n‘ roll.
Of Further Interest...
Mean Old Man is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2011 The Music Box