The entire space allotted to this review could be spent listing the jaw-dropping all-star talents who appear on this Jerry Lee Lewis career revival gambit. Kristofferson, Jagger, Richards, Clapton, Fogerty, Staples, Starr, just to name a few. But do too many cooks spoil this classic rock 'n' roll concoction? Hell, no. [rssbreak] The Killer convinces Jagger to sing backup on Dead Flowers and gets Keef to strap on a Telecaster for a soulful version of Sweet Virginia.
Jerry Lee Lewis made his first Steve Bing-produced comeback in 2006 with Last Man Standing, an all-star duets album that packed a surprising punch. With Jim Keltner replacing Jimmy Ripp as co-producer, Bing leads the Killer through the same basic formula for 2010’s Mean Old Man, even retaining many of the same all-stars from before -- Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Ron Wood, Merle Haggard, Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr, John Fogerty, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Kid Rock all return because who wouldn’t want them all to return for seconds? -- but the vibe on this record is a little more subdued, with Keltner favoring a welcome muddy Sun murk over the crisp snap of Last Man Standing. So, there’s nothing that rampages like his take on Led Zeppelin’s “Rock N Roll” -- although “Roll Over Beethoven,” with Ringo and John Mayer in tow, comes close -- but the slower tempos suit the 74-year old Killer, letting him dig into the contours of the songs and he gets into the nitty-gritty of the Stones’ “Dead Flowers” and “Sweet Virginia” (the latter cleaned up so Jerry Lee is cleaning the shine off his shoes), sounds invigorated to be singing gospel with Solomon Burke and finds an ideal harmony partner in Gillian Welch, whose presence elevates “Please Release Me” and “I Really Don’t Want To Know.
Duet albums generally represent cachet being cashed rather than banked, chummy exercises that boil down to performers singing karaoke to their own songs. Jerry Lee Lewis’s late career has been defined by these kinds of projects, from the 1986 Class of ‘55 Sun Records compilation to his last album, 2006’s Last Man Standing. Mean Old Man furthers the sense of laidback indolence, as Lewis brings back several of the same guests for obligatory romps through their classic material.
He doesn't usually need any star guests, but we're glad this lot turned up anyway. Martin Longley 2010 What an apt title, given the veteran rock'n'roller's deadly reputation. What a twinkle in Jerry Lee's eye as he delivers the opener’s wryly amusing couplets, even though it was penned by Kris Kristofferson. This disc just about attains an hour's worth of aerodynamically crafted songs: 18 in all, with not a second of their mostly profound sentiments surplus to the requirements of poetically archetypal song-crafting.
“If I look like a mean old man,” Jerry Lee Lewis sings on the title track of his latest album, Mean Old Man, “That’s what I am.” A glance at the album cover, showing a smiling Lewis surrounded by beautiful women clamoring for his attention, might cause a listener to disagree with that self-assessment. While The Killer may be up there in terms of years—his 75th birthday is coming up this month—he still sings with the same emotion and ferocity that first launched his career. Much like Johnny Cash’s later efforts, Lewis’s voice now is a little rougher and his range is a little more limited.