Live At Third Man Records is the Killer’s first full concert release album in the 21st Century. Picked and produced by Jack White, of The White Stripes, the album is one of a series where the famous guitarist has worked with legends including rockabilly pioneer, Wanda Jackson. For this gig a specially selected band was put together. Jerry Lee’s producer Jim Keltner drummed and his long-time guitarist, Kenny Lovelace, led the band. The line-up is completed by Steve Cropper on guitar and Jack Lawrence on bass.
The album is representative of a regular Jerry Lee Lewis show from almost any point post-2005. I think this fact is a mixed bag. Firstly, I’m glad that there is a documented record of a ‘regular’ 21st century gig but it obviously misses the excitement of something new and rare. Perhaps there was space for a double-album, this record and something with some prepped songs in, like “Mean Old Man” or “A Couple More Years”. This however would rely on The Killer putting the prep work in, something he’s not famed for!
The sound of the album for me is mixed. The overall sound is very strong, clean and clear – something that is always a positive for a live record, this doesn’t sound like a posh bootleg. However, at times, unless Jerry was bashing the top notes, the piano got lost – especially in some of his more intricate playing in songs like “Before The Night Is Over”. The overall band sound is very tight; Jim Keltner supplies a great rhythm for Jerry to work over and this is well supplemented by the rest of the band.
Down The Line – Following a short intro, this rock’n’roll classic kicks the gig off. The track is a moderately fast pace and the age of Jerry does show on the vocals without them being weak. The piano solos may not fall into the ‘inspired’ category but it neat and sharp none-the-less, no missed notes here. Both Steve Cropper and Kenny Lovelace supply solid guitar solos and fills. The band here is tight and sharp and Jerry’s performance outshines that of the Killer Piano DVD.
Georgia On My Mind – Barely space for a breath before Jerry kicks into this Ray Charles classic. Cropper fills in some classy licks throughout this track as Kenny sticks largely to chord strumming until his solo. In his singing Jerry seems to shape the longer notes better than I’ve heard on some other recent recordings, they’re neither cut dead short nor extended till he runs out of breath.
Drinking Wine, Spo-dee-O-dee – This song is ironically caught out by the neat little riff that Jerry brings it in with. The riff itself is classy but it sets the song off at a pedestrian pace that it never recovers from. Some of the piano is lost a little in the mid-range notes during the solo. This song is one of the weakest on the album with nothing really lifting it from its middle-of-the-road nature.
Before The Night Is Over – could have come from any gig from 2006 onwards. Nether-the-less, the Killer puts out a solid performance on this one. The more complex beat in this track shows Keltner off to his best; the only downside here is that Jerry’s tight, fast piano solo sounds a bit muddy in the mix.
Why You Been Gone So Long? – An undoubted highlight from the album and the subject of TMR’s promo video. The track kicks off at a fair pace with both the piano solos and guitar solo, supplied by Steve Cropper, being tight and sharp. Cropper’s contribution here, after Kenny nods him in, is a real highlight of the track.
I Wish I Was Eighteen Again – The second slow song on the album after “Georgia”. The melody of this track starkly reveals the age in Lewis’ voice but, given the lyrics of the song, this isn’t necessarily too much of a problem. Like “Georgia”, this track lacks any sort of a solo.
Sweet Little Sixteen – One of the stronger rockers on the album, Jerry kicks this track off at a good pace and keeps it going throughout. Already in the gig, his voice seems weaker than it did on the earlier tracks – perhaps part of the reason that his gigs now rarely tip over the 45 minute mark. Both the piano and guitar solos are the classic expected but both are played well.
You Belong To Me – This classic cut has been a regular throughout Jerry’s career and is one of the decreasing repertoire that the Killer stills keeps access to. As ever on this track, Kenny’s solo is a real highlight; other than little of note here – not because the track is badly played but because it is played very often.
She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye – One of only three ‘hits’ that features in the album. This rendering of the 1970 classic again could have come from any good gig from about 2005 onwards – a good rendering though and, once again, Jerry’s voice holds up well.
Mexicali Rose – This song has become one of the strongest in Jerry’s recent years repertoire and its another stand-out item on this album. I think pace is so vital to many of Jerry’s songs and the pace is not only good here but it doesn’t lead to any missed notes the piano solo. Overall a great rendering of this track which isn’t spoiled by a guitar duel which, when listening back to a gig, just leads to a messy overall sound.
Great Balls Of Fire – The sign that the end is nigh. This is the short, ‘Sun’, version of the track. performed well and loved by the crowd. The ‘whoop’ from the crowd shows that its the hits, naturally, that the crowd know and love.
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On – ‘If you like that one, you’re gonna lurv this one!’ and so into “Whole Lotta Shakin” we go. The song is as you’d expect really, classic solos abound, both on piano and guitar, and the crowd love it. These two songs are the first where you really notice the crowd as part of the gig. Cue finger wiggling, smashed top keys, a cheer and all that’s left is time for Kenny’s thanks for ‘the guys on the sound and the lights’. Before you know it, it’s all over!
Overall I must return to how I kicked this review off. This could be almost any gig from 2005 onwards and this both the pro and con of the album. The performances are strong, Jerry comfortably outplays and outsings his live performances from “Killer Piano” but we know tracks off-by-heart, with the only nuances being the solos of Steve Cropper rather than Buck. This perhaps opens the debate on how well served Jerry would be by a stronger band and by varied setlists for tours. However this is being written in a time where its quite possible that Jerry will never again grace a stage. Be thankful for what you’ve got and enjoy this solid, if unspectacular rock’n’roll feast.
Jerry Lee Lewis -Live At Third Man Records- 7/10