Jerry Lee Lewis
Last Man Standing
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2006, Volume 13, #9
Written by John Metzger
Given the Grammy possibilities — and hence, the sales potential — that star-studded affairs designed to resurrect the careers of faded rock stars typically have, it would be easy to dismiss Jerry Lee Lewis’ latest offering Last Man Standing as nothing more than an attention-grabbing publicity stunt. Throughout the 21-track collection, Lewis is paired with a diverse array of well-established artists — Little Richard, Kris Kristofferson, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Merle Haggard — and he is asked to perform a song for which they — not he — are known. Whatever the intentions behind Last Man Standing were, however, it’s clear that Lewis had other plans. Neither he nor his collaborators resort to run-of-the-mill deference; instead they take inspiration from each other and find ways of delivering the material with the sense of urgency it deserves.
There’s no denying that Last Man Standing is carried by Lewis rather than by his accompanists, and although hints of Robbie Robertson and The Band lurk beneath the surface of Twilight; Willie Nelson’s Latin-tinged twang filters through A Couple More Years; and That Kind of Fool encapsulates the boozy swagger of Keith Richards’ work with the Rolling Stones, the outing is remarkably devoid of pretense. Without the clash of egos that typically undermines such similarly constructed collections, the music is given plenty of room to breathe. Stripped bare and recast as a Memphis-born, rockabilly classic, Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll showcases the exuberantly joyous give-and-take that occurred between Lewis and guitarist Jimmy Page; while the ragged and raw treatment that is applied to Bruce Springsteen’s Pink Cadillac significantly improves upon its original incarnation. Elsewhere, Lewis and Neil Young revel in the barroom blues of Jimmy Reed’s You Don’t Have to Go; he and B.B. King sufficiently ignite Ben Peters’ Before the Night Is Over; and with the help of John Fogerty, he rips into Travelin’ Band with a vengeance.
For the record, Lewis’ voice isn’t quite what it once was, and as a result some of the slower selections — such as a cover of Evening Gown with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood; a rendition of Hank Williams’ Lost Highway with Delaney Bramlett; and an interpretation of What’s Made Milwaukee Famous with Rod Stewart — are a little rougher around the edges than they need to be. Even so, the enthusiasm that both he and his collaborators brought to the project not only marks Last Man Standing as one of the more successful star-studded sets, but it also proves that Lewis can still rock with the same fiery intensity as he did 50 years ago. ½
28th Annual Blues Music Award Winner:
Comeback Album of the Year
Of Further Interest...
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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