Jerry Lee Lewis contends as one of the greatest rock & rollers of all time. Born in Ferriday, Louisiana, during 1935, Lewis’ brand of wide-open piano playing and songwriting ignited the music world. It’s amazing he’s still among us.
His latest release, Mean Old Man, features guest artists such as Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Ron Wood, Robbie Robertson, Kris Kristofferson, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, James Burton and Merle Haggard. Produced by Jim Keltner, Mean Old Man makes for interesting listening. The album opens with the Kris Kristofferson title track highlighting Ron Wood’s amazing guitar playing. The song really says it all when he sings: “If I look like a voodoo doll that’s what I am”. Kid Rock and Slash appear on the next track—“Rockin’ My Life Away”—but its still The Killer’s trademark piano that drives the tune.
Next, a fantastic version of The Stones’ “Dead Flowers” spins with a resonating pedal steel. Mick sounds great as a back-up singer. Tim McGraw lends an honest voice on “Middle Age Crazy”, but no one can overshadow Jerry Lee. Yet, this laid-back song soothes somehow. It fits the track sequence.
“You Can Have Her”—one of this album’s best compositions--exhibits a guitar maze between Eric Clapton and James Burton that really should be heard. It’s a singular tune that epitomizes the spirit of ‘The Ferriday Flash’. James Burton appears again with Merle Haggard on “Swingin’ Doors”, and by this time dear reader you realize how far the roots of this music travels. What a cast of players…
“Roll Over Beethoven” propels the spirit of the album. The Stones’ “Sweet Virginia” really shines as Keith and Jerry Lee sing together with a nice fiddle-laced melody in the background. Jerry Lee indicates he used to cover “Railroad To Heaven” in church back in Ferriday when he was a kid before the song begins. “It’s was good then. It’s good now”, he says, and Solomon Burke lends a soulful voice over the weeping pedal steel and mellow organ. Jerry Lee’s salvation always existed in the eternal struggle between darkness and light, but this song seems to indicate his original intention.
John Fogerty appears on his tune “Bad Moon Rising”, which Jerry Lee really seems to appreciate in this straight-up rendition. Gillian Welch steps up to the microphone in “Please Release Me” that nails down the soul of Mean Old Man…classic country music. Willie Nelson joins Jerry Lee on a mighty fine version of “Whiskey River”. Gillian Welch sings again on “I Really Don’t Want to Know”. The Killer’s vulnerability and sensitivity to this song emits a convincing sadness that transcends time.
This version of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” I’m sure made Kris Kristofferson proud when he heard it. Mavis Staples, Robbie Robertson and Nils Lofgren join together in the traditional song “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”, and once again a gospel spirit descends. The final track, “Miss Mississippi And You”, rendered alone by Jerry Lee Lewis at the piano proves he will always be one of the greatest rock & rollers of all time, dead or alive.