Last Man Standing

Jerry Lee Lewis

Just when you thought he was wreaking havoc in a rest home somewhere, the Killer is on the loose. Jerry Lee Lewis, the sole living member of the Million Dollar Quartet and Class of 55, has emerged from the din with Last Man Standing, his first new album in 10 years. But this is no ordinary comeback record; Lewis has recruited a stellar, A-list cast of supporters to give the 21-song collection a powerful kick in the ass.

When you have a Beatle, three Rolling Stones, the lead guitarists from Led Zeppelin, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Buffalo Springfield, and the Band, and then top it off with people like Willie Nelson, B.B. King, and Bruce Springsteen — among many others — it’s unfeasible to even consider that the results could possibly be less than super fantabulous. As perhaps the best thing Lewis could have done at this stage in his illustrious career, Last Man Standing comes very close.

Jimmy Page scratches out a fast and furious lick to start things off with the Zeppelin classic “Rock And Roll,” but Lewis quickly takes the reins, making the number his own as he modestly asks “for that good something-or-other Louisiana loving.” He teams up with John Fogerty for a rousing rave-up of Creedence’s “Travelin’ Band,” and joins the Boss for a crack-whipping “Pink Cadillac.” Sptingsteen’s vocal input is minimal, but it breathes with a subtlety that brings out the best in Lewis’ twangy voice.

Lewis and Mick Jagger crone their way through “Evening Gown,” from the latter’s 1993 solo album Wandering Spirit, with Ron Wood adding some tasty slide guitar. The Stones affiliation carries over to Mack Vickery’s “That Kind of Fool,” featuring a duet between Lewis and Keith Richards, who’s even more buried in the mix than Springsteen. But once again, the supportive role that Richards assumes provides a rigid foundation for Lewis to float about in his own cosmic fascination without losing track of where the hell the song is going.

Somehow, despite the fact that a Beatle (Ringo Starr) and a few Stones appear on the record, none of them apparently got the call for “I Saw Her Standing There” or “Honky Tonk Women.” Those honors fell upon Little Richard and Kid Rock, respectively, with decidedly mixed results. The real heart of the album resides in the country material. “Just A Bummin’ Around” with Merle Haggard trots along like a well-tempered eel, while “Don’t Be Ashamed Of Your Age” with Geroge Jones seemingly praises the benefits of senior citizenship, eliciting a heart-stopping backbone that could hold both singers in contempt.

After noble alliances with Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, and Buddy Guy, Lewis makes a major left turn when he slow dances the jig with Don Henley on Van Morrison’s “The Irish Heart Beat.” The infectious, lilting Celtic wisp segues superbly into “The Pilgrim Ch. 33,” a low-key lullaby that includes Kris Kristofferson selectively chipping in when necessary. When all is heard and evaluated, Last Man Standing is simply a remarkable achievement for Jerry Lee Lewis, a 71-year-old man known for numerous controversial and miscalculated career moves. The Killer can count his blessings he still has his health, his marbles, and plenty of friends willing to lend a hand.

~ Shawn Perry

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