Jerry Lee Lewis is the original, archetypal rock & roll rebel, and he's still pulverizing the piano keys more than half a century after he recorded "Great Balls of Fire."
The terrific Mean Old Man — an even better "comeback" record than Lewis' acclaimed 2006 release Last Man Standing — follows the template of Johnny Cash's Rick Rubin-produced albums, setting Lewis loose on well-chosen standards and surrounding the legend with big-name fans. (Everyone from Eric Clapton, Merle Haggard and John Mayer to Sheryl Crow and Mavis Staples makes an appearance, along with three Rolling Stones and one Beatle.)
Lewis rumbles through Stones chestnuts ("Dead Flowers," with Mick Jagger) and country classics ("Whiskey River," with Willie Nelson).
His version of "Sweet Virginia," with Keith Richards, has a delicious swagger. On the ferocious rave-up "Rockin' My Life Away," Lewis shows the decades-younger Kid Rock and Slash how to do it. But Lewis is at his best when he's left alone, delivering "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and the heart-rending "Miss the Mississippi and You" in a weather-beaten croak on the deluxe CD's bonus tracks.
He sounds old, all right, but in the best way: This is the voice of a man who has seen, and done, it all.
By Jody Rosen
2010 09 07
2010 09 07