Album Review

Jerry Lee Lewis - Last Man Standing

Jerry Lee Lewis - Last Man Standing

First; cards on the table: I consider Jerry Lee Lewis to be one of the top two or three rock 'n' roll singers there's ever been, and also, whether he likes it or not, one of the two or three best country singers ever -- now, as 50 years ago, one of America's greatest weapons of mass destruction, creation, and preservation. Last Man Standing contains some of his best new music in decades, and that may be enough to know. But, then again, there are some details worth hearing about. That title refers, mainly, to Lewis' outlasting of the other three members of Sun records' Million Dollar Quartet -- Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. (Contemplate the odds of that.) If he in fact spends more time sitting on his piano bench than standing and kicking it away in live shows these days, nothing really has been lost on disc in his fierce and knowing, insinuating vocals, or his pumping rhythm and attack. That being the case, the producers of this 21-duet set have had several really good ideas. The best was having the Killer take on post-'50s, album-rock-era songs that he really needed to: Creedence's "Travelin' Band", Springsteen's "Pink Cadillac", Led Zep's lonely, lonely, lonely time "Rock And Roll". The results would pop right out as singles on pop top-40 AM radio, if that happened to exist now. Another good idea, from back when this four-years-festering project began, was pairing Jerry Lee with good singing partners, interactively, live, in the studio. Some work really well: Bruce, Neil Young, similarly lifestyle-tested survivors George Jones and Merle Haggard. Others work for the sheer charm of their existence: Ringo Starr on "Sweet Little Sixteen" and Little Richard on "I Saw Her Standing There", for two. And then there are the places where session makers Steve Bing and Jimmy Rip were somewhat less prescient. A clear case of impacted boomer myopia means that Jerry Lee is never brought to confront any modern rock whatsoever (though whether that would have worked is an open question), and that the only two singing partners here who have emerged in the last 30 years are Kid Rock and Toby Keith. (As in his recent duet with Merle, Keith is actually terrific singing with Lewis.) Their worst call was having various unavailable stars phone in vocal tracks tacked on to fine Jerry Lee performances as chorus-fuzzying afterthoughts -- the bane of way too many commercially-untrusting hero comebacks. In ten years, somebody will wipe off those unnecessary additives and announce there's a "new" clean Jerry Lee album. He'll probably be around singing and playing the boogie, a killer still. Meanwhile, this one will more than do.