CD Review of Last Man Standing by Jerry Lee Lewis

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Last Man Standing
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Artist/Shangri-La
Released: 2006
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It’s pretty ballsy for anyone to promote their album as “THE MOST AMAZING CLASSIC ROCK-N-ROLL ALBUM EVER!” Then again, there aren’t many people who’d argue with the word “ballsy” as a descriptor for Jerry Lee Lewis.

This is, after all, the man who showed up at Graceland in 1976, brandishing a gun and explaining to the guard at the gate that he’d come to kill Elvis. The fact that he was only kidding – Elvis had invited Lewis; The King had just neglected to tell security – in no way changes the fact that it takes a hell of a set of walnuts to do that in the first place; that’s the kind of shit that gets you wrestled to the ground in about two seconds flat (or, more likely, shot dead where you stand).

And if a reputation like that isn’t enough to make you think the lofty claim made by the publicists for Lewis’s new album of duets just might be accurate, you might want to consider that “the Killer” variously teams up with Jimmy Page, Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Ron Wood, Neil Young, Robbie Robertson, John Fogerty, Keith Richards, Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Little Richard, Delaney Bramlett, Don Henley, and, uh, Kid Rock. (Clearly, among those names, one is definitely not like the other; not coincidentally, Kid Rock’s track is the only one that makes you raise your eyebrows and wonder, “Couldn’t they get anyone else?”) One also has to wonder if there are additional ad campaigns for the disc, claiming it’s also the most amazing country and blues album ever, since there are also collaborations with B.B. King, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Toby Keith, Buddy Guy, and Kris Kristofferson.

The inclusion of the country artists isn’t terribly surprising, given that Jerry Lee has found considerable success on the C&W charts over the years...but since the opening track finds Lewis covering Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” – with Page providing all the right guitar licks – it’s clear the emphasis is still more or less on the rock. Most of the songs are covers, but given that Lewis brings in the original artists to help him out when he can…like Mick Jagger on “Evening Gown” or John Fogerty on “Traveling Band”…they sound about as good as they possibly could. “C’mon, now, Killah!” grins Springsteen at the beginning of “Pink Cadillac,” and his obvious enthusiasm is infectious. Most of Lewis’ singing partners are clearly having a ball with him…some even unabashedly teasing him; when Lewis offers an off-key yodel at the end of “Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Age,” George Jones responds, “Damn, that’s too high for ya!”

Mind you, the title Last Man Standing is proven inaccurate simply by having fellow ‘50s rock pianist Little Richard show up for a duet of the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.” And using the word “duet” to describe a few of these tracks isn’t entirely accurate…or, at the very least, it’s a little deceptive; Page, Clapton, and King offer up guitar to serve as counterpoint to Lewis’s piano, but there’s no vocal dueting…which is perhaps a blessing in Page’s case, but it’s disappointing for the other two.

Still, there’s a lot to be said for this disc; through the rollicking (and solid) performances, it proves that, even at 71, Jerry Lee Lewis is very much a force to be reckoned with.

~Will Harris