Review Summary: The Killer returns in all his glory to reclaim the Rock n Roll Crown and he's brought some help with him. Not that he needs it, as Jerry Lee shows on Last Man Standing he is a true original with plenty of fire and brimstone stlll running through his veins
At 71 years old Jerry Lee Lewis still has great balls of fire. Whole lotta shakin' goin' on, those crazy arms working across the piano keys just like the devil taught him. Jerry is called "The Killer" for one reason. Over the years through accidents, stupidity, or just plain bad luck that moniker has taken on different shapes and meanings. But on "Last Man Standing", Jerry Lee's latest album in a long line of albums, it means just one thing. And that is this album of well chosen covers kills, explodes, and overflows with music and attitude only a handful of artists in American music history could deliver with this kind of verve and authenticity. Jerry Lee Lewis is one in that handful. And he's brought some friends with him just as capable for this record. Good thing.
Jerry Lee and Jimmy Page kick things off with a rousing cover of Led Zeppelin's "Rock And Roll" and its obvious the song has turned a 180 in Jerry's hands and come back home where it belongs. Turned into a boogie shuffle here, Jerry gives it the Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On piano treatment and keeps it swinging until the end while Jimmy comes in at the bridge to play his part. Short, simple, and sweet. Just how I like Jimmy. And thankfully thats how the entire album plays out, as it seems producer Jimmy Rip understands when you have talent like The Killer in studio its best to stay out of his way no matter who shows up to play with him. Bruce Springsteen comes along to add a touch of backing vocals and guitar to his own "Pink Cadillac", Keith Richards makes an appearance on the honky tonk blues of "That Kind Of Fool", and John Fogerty sits in for a jubilant reworking of CCR's "Travelin Band". And while these are known artist of some merit what is refreshing is how they stay in check and dutifully accompany Jerry Lee on Last Man Standing rather then overwhelm the aging legend with overblown performances. Everything on this record is made to play to Jerry's strengths, and the album never loses sight of its vision. Lewis's piano playing, driving and vibrant, his singing, strong and alive. This is not a 71 year old artist who needs propping up. Rather, it is Jerry Lee himself who lifts those around him throughout this 22 song set.
Highlights abound on this collection and its not long before you run into a few of them. The country flavored "Evening Gown" featuring Mick Jagger is a revelation as the 62 year old Rolling Stones frontman sounds excellent duetting with The Killer on one of his own tunes, and Neil Young turns in an equally engaging performance on the bluesy standout "You Don't Have to Go". The core band of Kenny Lovelace and Jimmy Rip on guitars, Hutch Hutchinson on bass, and the well traveled Jim Keltner on drums give the material a respectful but spirited treatment, not playing it over the top yet moving things along just fine while remembering staying out of Jerry's way is most likely best when it comes to these recordings. Lewis, always the showman and known for his somewhat large ego, propels these songs forward and sounds like he's having a great time doing so. And when he and fellow rock n roll founding father Little Richard step up to give The Beatles "I Saw Her Standing There" the once over twice, its pretty clear that not only what goes around comes around, but also what comes around most likely has been going around for a good deal longer then many would figure or perhaps care to think about.
Other standouts include Jerry Lee and Kid Rock giving "Honky Tonk Woman" a fairly good workout, "Trouble In Mind" featuring Eric Clapton lending excellent guitar accompaniment to Jerry's slowburn piano, and Wilie Nelson joining Lewis on his own "Couple More Years". Missteps? Not many. "Don't Be Ashamed Of Your Age" is a fun but slight duet sung with George Jones that doesn't inspire much, and "Ol Glory" was just a bad idea all around as this flag waving, patriotic mush featuring country star Toby Keith sounds woefully contrived and out of place on this otherwise solid album of heartfelt blues, lonesome country, and hip shaking rock n roll smokers. So complaints are next to none here, as each track has the unique feel and sound of a unique artist doing what he does best while showing others, young and old, exactly how it's supposed to be done.
As rockers like Jerry Lee Lewis age its interesting to hear and see where they go with this music and what time does to a veteran rock n roll artist. This music, intended and made for the young, seems no less relevant or engaging in the capable hands of someone like Jerry Lee. Seemingly born with the music living inside him, The Killer has been playing professionally since he was 15 years old. Married three times by the time he was 23, his career left for dead by scandal after he married his 13 year old first cousin once removed in the late '50's, and surviving it all to become a bonafide country star in the late sixties through the early '80's, Jerry Lee Lewis has a lot of life behind him. And through years of personal tragedy, death, murder accusations, financial ruin, and drug addiction, The Killer is ever unapologetic. Never making excuses for his somewhat erratic behavior and insisting to this day he is the true heir to the rock n roll throne after the fall of Elvis, on Last Man Standing Jerry Lee puts his money where his mouth is and delivers perhaps the last great blast of good times and rollicking piano we are likely to get from him before he goes quietly into the night. And whether you are a fan, curious, or just in the mood for some good 'ol shuckin' and jivin', on Last Man Standing Jerry Lee Lewis has the medicine you need to get you through.