At 78, Jerry Lee Lewis doesn’t have to make records anymore. His reputation as one of the earliest rock ‘n rollers has been cemented for eons now, but here he is with yet another album, one of several he’s issued in the last decade. Predictably, it’s a welcome release from The Killer. Lewis rubbed shoulders with most of the cats who wrote the Great American Songbook, and his ability to deliver his renditions of tunes that fall squarely in that category is impeccable.
Jerry Lee LewisRock & Roll Time(Vanguard)4 out of 5 stars Now three albums into a comeback that began with 2006’s Last Man Standing duet set and continued with 2010’s Mean Old Man, Jerry Lee Lewis seems truly reinvigorated in his waning years. He’s pushing 80 but you’ll never be able to tell from the strutting, swaggering performances on this album. Credit producers Steve Bing and veteran drummer Jim Keltner, both back from the previous release, for corralling an A list of sidemen (and one woman) to provide the killer with all the support he needs.
Even staring 80 years in the face, Lewis remains a defiantly ornery presence, and the stellar cast here – Neil Young, Robbie Robertson, Doyle Bramhall II – are kept firmly in harness to his still muscular vocals and stridentbarrelhouse piano. There are nods to Lewis’s role as rock’n’roll founding father – Keef ’n’ Ron show up for Chuck’s Little Queenie – but country is where the Killer’s heart resides, and Jimmie Rodgers’s Blues Like Midnight and Dylan’s Stepchild come steeped in stoic sorrow, while Shelby Lynne adds spice to Kristofferson’s Here Comes That Rainbow. A nice appetiser for the new tell-all biography.
There's a different feel to 2014's Rock & Roll Time, the third album Jerry Lee Lewis has made with benefactor and producer Steve Bing. Once again, superstar drummer Jim Keltner co-produces (as he did on 2010's Mean Old Man), and the pair bring the Killer back where he belongs -- right at Sun Studios. In case anybody missed the point, Jerry Lee is placed directly in front of the old Sun building itself on the cover of Rock & Roll Time, underscoring a point the music makes perfectly plain: Jerry Lee is once again singing some of that old-time rock & roll.
For his follow-up to 2006's Last Man Standing and 2010's Mean Old Man, Jerry Lee Lewis once again invites his famous friends to play on some old favorites. This time, though, he's not in a duetting mood. Lewis relegates the likes of Keith Richards, Robbie Robertson, Neil Young and Nils Lofgren to guitar and backing vocals – making this less a star-studded spectacle than a personal statement, with the 79-year-old singer bringing his voice and piano to several blues standards, a couple of Chuck Berry tunes and an unexpected Dylan deep cut ("Stepchild").
Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Rock & Roll Time” sounds like an after-hours session with famous friends, vintage guitars and a half-planned set list. Why not? Jerry Lee Lewis is a rebel, an authentic person; let him make an authentic record. Free him from restrictions! It isn’t that simple anymore, if ….