Jerry Lee Lewis
A Half Century of Hits
The Music Box's #2 boxed set of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2006, Volume 13, #6
Written by John Metzger
Having been beaten to market by The Definitive Collection, Hip-O’s single-disc overview of Jerry Lee Lewis’ career, it’s likely that A Half Century of Hits will get lost in the shuffle. That’s a shame, too, because the expansive, three-disc compilation that was assembled by the newly invigorated Time Life label actually does a better job of encapsulating Lewis’ oft-forgotten but no less astounding career. Full of youthful exuberance and the electrifying promise of early rock ’n’ roll, songs such as Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On and Great Balls of Fire sound as fresh and vital today as they did nearly 50 years ago. For that matter, so does nearly everything else on A Half Century of Hits, in spite of the sometimes simplistic lyricism and dated arrangements. There’s no denying the urgency with which Lewis delivers the suitably frantic Real Wild Child (Wild One), and he revels within the steamy sexuality of Big Leg Woman’s blues motif. Elsewhere, he laces Lewis Boogie with a furious piano accompaniment; fuses together gospel, R&B, and rockabilly within his propulsive cover of Night Train to Memphis; and transforms the swinging groove of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say into something that is all his own.
As is evidenced by the concert cuts featured on A Half Century of Hits — two of which came from a 1964 tour of Europe and three of which were recorded at Opryland in 1981 — as well as a sprinkling of studio selections — such as the rampaging Memphis Beat, a downright funky interpretation of Folsom Prison Blues, the lascivious and surly Meat Man, and a rendition of Merle Haggard’s Workin’ Man Blues that crosses Bob Dylan with Johnny Cash — Lewis never abandoned his feisty rock ’n‘ roll roots, nor did he temper the manic energy of his stage persona. Much as his early cover of Hank Williams’ You Win Again seemed to suggest, however, his material did begin to adopt an overt, country-oriented flavor, and large portions of the set, beginning near the end of disc one and continuing for its duration, are adorned in Nashville-bred overtones. Nevertheless, it’s here within the confines of Jerry Chesnut’s sad-eyed and lonely Another Place, Another Time, Glenn Sutton’s inebriated and sorrowful What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me), and Charlie Rich’s heartbroken lament Who Will the Next Fool Be that Lewis’ vocals truly shine as he trades the raucous fun of his pre-punk whoops and hollers in favor of more subtle, emotion-laden nuances. With a new album entitled Last Man Standing slated for release in September — one that features guest appearances by Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards — A Half Century of Hits is precisely the kind of collection that is designed to set the table for Lewis’ return to the spotlight. Even so, what it delivers is a full meal all by itself.
Of Further Interest...
A Half Century of Hits is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box