My next review is going to be of Mean Old Man‘s predecessor: Last Man Standing. This album was largely financed by the Jerry Lee fan Steve Bing and produced by Jimmy Rip. Marking Jerry’s first released recording since Youngblood in 1995, the album, recorded over approx. six years, finished as duets album, with a range of artists appearing on the album, either contemporaries of Jerry Lee or later generations influenced by him. The album was released in 2006 and coincided with Jerry’s 71st birthday.
The fervour in Jerry’s fanbase was large prior to the album’s release. The album excited fans as it was the first time Jerry had had a record release in over ten years and also ignited something of an upsurge in Jerry’s career, marked from the European tour in 2004 with Chuck Berry onwards.
When the album was eventually released, the fan reaction was largely positive. Jerry sounded healthy, happy and bold on the album, possibly even superior to his ability to perform live at that stage. This was an effect created by the fact that some of the cuts on the album had been in the can for up to five years before the album had been released. The reaction in the media was mixed, some critics were in favour of the album, helped by an admiration that Jerry was going at all! Others however had already felt that Jerry was past it and the album represented an empty echo of his past glories.
The overall sound of the album is very strong, as producer Jimmy Rip said, ‘On every track the vocals are loud, the piano is loud’. A duets album this may be but no track allows you to forget who is commanding what is going on. The performances on the album are also strong in my opinion. Helped by the fact that many of the recordings were of a Jerry five years younger than the release, he comes across strongly, he’s clearly enjoying recording the album and banter is left on the end of many of the tracks to emphasise this point. Some of the duets were overdubbed onto pre-recorded tracks by Jerry, but these are mostly guitar solos, for example on Before The Night Is Over and Trouble In Mind, but many of them had Jerry in the studio with the guest artist and so this lends a live feel to the tracks. The shame in the album taking so long to release was that it’s trend had already been set by 2006 despite the recording starting before other similar albums, such as Genius Loves Company and some may argue that Jerry couldn’t publicise the album as well as it deserved as he could no longer match what he’s recorded. I’ll now move on to a track-by-track view before concluding.
Rock’n’Roll (Feat, Jimmy Page) – A blistering opening track and a good representation of the album. The choice of track is adventurous but good – I’m sure that, prior to the cut, not many would have recommended Jerry Lee taking on Led Zeppelin! However Jerry puts in a strong rocking performance, the vocals have bit of echo added to help strengthen them and the piano is pounding throughout. As shown up by the sample released before the album came out, Page’s contribution is an overdub but I consider this less of an issue with guitar solos then I would added vocals.
Before The Night Is Over (Feat. B.B. King) – My bias might come out here – this is one of my all time favourite songs! I think Jerry really excelled on this track. For this re-cut the killer is cocky and confident, ‘I’ll bet you by the morning I’ll be the only one you’re thinking of!’. Jerry is again front and centre of the track and B.B. King adds a nice, overdubbed solo. I love the mid-tempo beat of this track and the lyrics of the song, perfectly delivered by JLL. The solo is also cracking, an all-round superb track for me!
Pink Cadillac (Feat. Bruce Springsteen) – Another strong mid-temp rocker. The was one of the first tracks recorded on the album with Bruce and Jerry together in the studio. Jerry relegates Bruce to backing vocals on his own track and for me the only thing lacking on this track is a rocking piano solo to complete a killer performance.
Evening Gown (Feat. Mick Jagger) – A track from one of Mick’s solo album Wandering Spirit. This is a country flavoured performance and Jerry and Mick trade blows well. Ronnie Wood also puts in some subtle, but appropriate, pedal steel throughout.
You Don’t Have To Go (Feat. Neil Young) – A blues number and one of only two performed as a duet to promote the album. Another good track, it helps to show the strength of Jerry’s versatility and both the piano and guitar solos are strong.
Twilight (Feat. Robbie Robbertson) – A modern feeling track. I think this steps outside of Jerry’s typical sounds and in some ways that’s a strength as it adds to the variety on the album. I think this would have made a good single and, with some good promotion behind it, could have been something of a chart success for Jerry.
Travellin’ Band (Feat. John Fogerty) – A breakneck speed run of the CCR classic! JF kicks this off at a fantastic pace and Jerry matches him throughout! A real rocker where both artists are clearly having fun, the only downside of the speed is the limit it places on Jerry’s piano playing, there’s not much of a solo to write home about here.
That Kind of Fool (Feat. Keith Richards) – A re-cut of a track from earlier in Jerry’s career. A track I like with a good contribution from the Rolling Stones’ guitarist. I also like the track having Jerry’s trademarks in, such as referring to himself by name, something largely missing from Mean Old Man.
Sweet Little Sixteen (Feat. Ringo Starr) – This is a track Jerry has recorded several times in career, going right back to his sun days. This track has a strong, live feel and you can really feel that Ringo and Jerry are in the studio together. The live feel is borne out by Jerry’s live solo being played and Ken’s trademark guitar solo.
Just Bummin’ Around (Feat. Merle Haggard) – A really laid-back track kicks off with Jerry asking what key the song should be in! This has a real old-time country vibe going, contributed by two of country’s elder living statesmen. Although Jerry’s voice breaks on a few notes, the performance is good and matches well the easy-going nature of the lyrics.
Honky-Tonk Woman (Feat. Kid Rock) – One of the more controversial of Jerry’s musical guests. This is a unique run-through of the Stones classic. This is the only track to have live shot video made and shows in brief the recording process of Jerry and Rock laying down a base track with the band, then going back to sharpen up touches, such as the vocals, a process perhaps Mean Old Man may have benefited from.
What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Feat. Rod Stewart) – One of the most famous guests to appear on the album. This is a piano and vocals only track and was, according to both Jerry in the intro and Jimmy Rip, a special request of Stewart. Throughout the track Rod takes the chance to pay tribute to Jerry with lines such as ‘every time I start to leave they play another Jerry Lee song’.
Don’t Be Ashamed Of Your Age (Feat. George Jones) – One of the handful of tracks on the album where Jerry is the younger! A fast paced, fun, country piece; both the artists are clearly enjoying both the track and each other’s company. Apparently the jokes told around the track are worthy of an album of their own according to producer Jimmy Rip!
A Couple Of Years (Feat. Willie Nelson) – One of Jerry’s favourites on the album, this is a slow, soulful, reflective number talking about a love with a difference of age. A very touching subject for Jerry and something that he seems bound to carry no matter how many years pass.
Ol’ Glory (Feat. Toby Keith) – One of my two less favoured tracks on the album. It shows Jerry’s and Keith’s national pride but, perhaps because I’m not American, it doesn’t do much for me. The performance is ok but an over-done echo seems to be left on the voices.
Trouble In Mind (Feat. Eric Clapton) – Another superb track on the album. A strong blues number with Jerry holding the vocals all the way and Clapton’s guitar added as an overdub at a later date. For me this is a brilliant recording and beats the 1973 Session version, in part because there is only the one piano here!
I Saw Her Standing There (Feat. Little Richard) – A strong run-through of a Beatles classic with two of rock’n’roll’s instigators sharing the mike. This is a rocking take, it’s a shame that Richard’s vocals aren’t quite what they once were but it’s good fun no less and impressive that the guest is happy to allow Jerry to be front and centre.
Lost Highway (Feat. Delaney Bramlett) – Another personal favourite. This track was picked after Jerry declined recording Hank Williams Angel of Death. I really like the journey feel added to this track and the slightly different sound to Jerry’s traditional country style.
Hadacol Boogie (Feat. Buddy Guy) – A real boogie-woogie feeling track here with one the Blues’ classic guitar players. Jerry performs well and Guy contributes well with some nice supporting guitar licks and vocal back-ups. The piano is strong on this track.
What Makes The Irish Heart Beat (Feat. Don Henley) – One of my other less favoured tracks on the album. The addition of the pipes etc just don’t suit Jerry, but then I’m not a fan of his strings or female backing singers on previous albums! Also I think the lyrics are very poorly picked, I may be wrong but I can’t imagine Jerry feels any attachment to the Irish Troubles, I wonder if he even knew what he singing about.
The Pilgrim (Feat, Kris Kristofferson) – The original title for the album and displayed on a US late-night chat show. Both Jimmy and Jerry felt the lyrics were ideal for him. Jerry apparently had trouble arranging the track for piano so he said that guitars could take it in but the piano would take it out. Jerry poignantly finishes the album by speaking the chorus in his now unique slurred, southern drawl.
Overall this album is one of my all time favourites. Prior to 2004 I didn’t know that any of the original rocker’s were still working let alone still recording. I remember fervently watching the now (sadly) departed Jerry Lee Lewis Start Page for details of the album as they emerged and I was not disappointed when it arrived. I feel the album shows a much fuller image of the range of Jerry Lee than Mean Old Man as it includes the cock-sure, confident lovin’ Jerry Lee but, on reflection, it may be that the man has changed since those first recording session almost ten years ago.
Jerry Lee Lewis –Last Man Standing 8/10