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A few weak performances mar an otherwise great CD
on November 28, 2006
During its time as one of the funniest and hip programs on television, The Drew Carey Show would stage some incredibly subversive music events. The one that was among the most enjoyable and surprising came - as many of the best moments on the show did - during the closing segments. In it, Joe Walsh and Little Richard played an incandescent version of Rocky Mountain Way. The two performers were figuratively within each others' body and soul; as they - to steal a line from Spinal Tap - took it to 11!
I mention that event as a preamble to this review of Jerry Lee Lewis' Last Man Standing. The title is a bit of a word play. It has been 50 years since Lewis, Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash met at Sun Studio in Memphis and recorded a batch of material. The passing of his companions leaves only Jerry Lee and he has decided to explore some familiar ground in terms of material, but rather eclectic group of partners.
This twenty-one song CD finds Lewis singing and playing with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, BB King, George Jones, Toby Keith and Kid Rock. The songs are often, though not always, by the guest artist and also cover a broad range of genres including blues, rhythm and blues, country and rock `n' roll. In all cases, the lead artists are backed by a strong rhythm section.
For those who remember the Richard/Walsh duet or have it on the soundtrack CD, the transcendence of it was that the two performers complemented each other and gained from the synergy that exploded out of the performance. The same cannot always be found on each cut of this CD. Lewis is in amazingly good voice. Age and mileage have narrowed his vocal range a touch and the voice does exibit tremors here and there, but each song is delivered with all the arrogance of The Killer. At the same time, some of his partners do not deliver with similar commitment. There are cases where some very big name talent seem to be "mailing it in."
The first two cuts - Rock and Roll with Jimmy Page and Before the Night is Over with BB King - find Jerry up front with the aforementioned partners all but invisible. My despair at the CD being a dog began to dissipate on track three where Springsteen and Lewis deliver a chuggin' version of Pink Cadillac that had me riding shotgun with the two of them on the Ocean Avenue/Kingsley Avenue circuit in Asbury Park.
Then, my hopes were dashed again as Mick Jagger and Ron Wood joined Lewis on Evening Gown, a so-so performance where Wood's slide guitar and Jerry Lee's keyboard were offset by an embarrassing, mincing vocal by Sir Mick.
A rebound comes with a rousing Travelin' Band as Lewis and John Fogarty seemed to thoroughly enjoy working the song.
The erratic performances came to an end at the middle of the CD with string of strong performances with Merle Haggard, Kid Rock, Rod Stewart, George Jones, Willie Nelson and Toby Keith. The sinews that bound this collection of songs together was a raucous honky-tonk attitude which indicated perhaps where Lewis' comfort zone was at the time of recording. The CD remains strong through to the end by keeping to this roadhouse ambiance, most notably with Delaney Bramlett on Lost Highway and Buddy Guy on Hadacol Boogie.
When Lewis et al play to their combined strengths, the CD is among the best for this year. The misses - especially in view of the weakness of the first two cuts - pull down the overall pleasure of the listening experience. There are eighteen solid performances here. The producers would have served Lewis better by culling the weaker ones.