Drowned in Sound: Jerry Lee Lewis--Last Man Standing

Drowned in Sound
Jerry Lee Lewis--Last Man Standing
Rock's original bad boy
by Kodi McKinney, DJ at U92
kodimckinney@gmail.com

Sometimes, the comeback album is absolutely necessary. They are often nothing more than painfully contrived vehicles for exposure, but a new Jerry Lee Lewis record is the only way for more recent generations to fully understand his importance. The last and possibly most misunderstood of rock's founders has returned with Last Man Standing, an album of duets that laughs directly in the face of pop exploitation.
From the opening revamp of Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll," it's clear that this album is going to be different. Attempting to stay true to Lewis' Sun Records roots, the song gets reworked as searing rockabilly with the help of Jimmy Page himself. I would prefer the original version, but Page's Fifties-style guitar chops and Lewis' inspired piano work make this remake strangely irresistible.
That seems to be the primary goal of Last Man Standing: to prove how much modern music really owes to Lewis and his contemporaries. Every song here feels like it could be played either on a diner jukebox (such as the rollicking "Pink Cadillac," with Bruce Springsteen) or in a honky tonk club (as with Neil Young's duet on "You Don't Have To Go"). Lewis had the freedom to rearrange the songs as he saw fit, and his distinctive musical imprint is on every part of this album. You absolutely cannot knock the man's sincerity.
In fact, the sincerity of Last Man Standing is what puts it over the top. When the duet concept goes wrong, it's because somebody other than the artist is choosing the collaborators and basing it on their marketability. Think of Carlos Santana's albums after Supernatural, and you get the idea. Yet there is not a single musician on Last Man Standing who is obviously on the wrong record; even Kid Rock pulls off a vocal performance on "Honky Tonk Woman" that is shockingly authentic. The production also feels truly spontaneous, with plenty of chatter around takes between Lewis and his partners. For goodness' sake, John Fogerty and Lewis cut part of "Travelin' Band" in an Iowa motel.
I could gush about the greatness of many other performances on this album, especially in its glorious last half. Instead, I will tell you that you would be missing out on some old-school rock and roll of the highest order should you fail to check out Last Man Standing. Lewis didn't earn his place in the founding pantheon of great rock musicians for "Great Balls Of Fire" alone, and there is no better way to convince yourself of that than to give this a listen. If not for the occasional moments where the album's pacing drags a bit, this would be relative perfection.
Rating: 4 out of 5