Eleven years after his last major label release, piano-pumpin’ rock ’n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis returns with a 21-song set recorded in 2003 chock-filled with major classic rock, blues and country stars.
As is common nowadays, many stars overdubbed their contributions at a later date. Smarter duet partners such as Jimmy Page (“Rock ’n’ Roll”), Eric Clapton (“Trouble in Mind”) and B.B. King (“Before the Night Is Over”), were content to add snarling guitar riffs to Lewis’ sizzling keyboard pyrotechnics.
Yet, there exists a palpable atmosphere of camaraderie in Lewis’s duets with such ‘60s/’70s superstars as Rod Stewart (“What Made Milwaukee Famous”), John Fogerty (“Traveling Band”) and Bruce Springsteen (“Pink Cadillac”). Further, Mick Jagger’s counterpoint lines (“Evening Gown”) drip with open admiration.
Interestingly, Lewis’ trademark eclectic playlist actually benefits his guests. Blues great Buddy Guy burns through (“Hadacol Boogie”). Country contemporaries George Jones (“Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Age”) and Merle Haggard (“Just Bummin’ Around”) sound right at home. Better still, folk-rocker Neil Young helps transform Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go” into a stellar blues event.
Although the 71-year-old Lewis occasionally sounds mush-mouthed, his ability to personalize a song remains vividly intact. Empathizing with Kris Kristofferson’s ballad of a rounder fallen on hard times (“The Pilgrim Chapter 33"), he channels a character who offers no apologies for the life he’s led, singing “the going up was worth the coming down.” It is as poignant an exit line as we are ever likely to hear.