Mean Old Man
en: Mean Old Man (album) [info]
What an apt title, given the veteran rock'n'roller's deadly reputation. What a twinkle in Jerry Lee's eye as he delivers the opener's wryly amusing couplets, even though it was penned by Kris Kristofferson. This disc just about attains an hour's worth of aerodynamically crafted songs: 18 in all, with not a second of their mostly profound sentiments surplus to the requirements of poetically archetypal song-crafting. It should also be mentioned that Lewis has guests in attendance on virtually every track, but these are no routine players: these are some of the greatest names in rock, soul, country and gospel music.
Although the album might seem like a swan song, stellar beings lining up to pay their final tribute at the open coffin of the fiery-balled master, it actually sounds like a virile romp through Jerry Lee's mostly-country obsessions. There are only a clutch of pure rock'n'rollers herein. Even though Eric Clapton, Merle Haggard, Solomon Burke, Ringo Starr, John Fogerty, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples and most of The Rolling Stones crowd around the communal fireside microphone, everyone is integrated into the dominant perspective of their host. The sessions don't sound patchy or cobbled together. There's a unity in terms of performing equality, coupled with an unbeatable repertoire.
Lewis nonchalantly ambles into Mean Old Man with his gnarled snarl, then Ronnie Wood joins in the song's sudden acceleration, delivering his best hillbilly picking. Is it possible that the Stones are the most underrated country combo of all time? Mick Jagger appears on Dead Flowers, and then Keith Richards on Sweet Virginia. No cussin' for Jerry Lee: he shines up Jagger's original words from this Exile on Main St. chestnut.
Kid Rock and Slash unexpectedly tear it up on the disc's first fast-roller, Rockin' My Life Away. Clapton and James Burton spar swiftly on You Can Have Her, soul-gospel singer Burke makes an unlikely entrance on Railroad to Heaven, and there's more rockin' on Roll Over Beethoven, complete with bounce-back vocals. Jerry Lee's world-weary drawl inhabits Middle Age Crazy, simultaneously mocking and affirming, both himself and others. Indeed, at 75, he's well over the midlife crisis.
Then, whaddaya know? Fogerty turns up to participate on his own Bad Moon Rising, from the Creedence Clearwater Revival days. Another exception from the norm is Whisky River, where Willie Nelson succeeds in imposing his own sonic universe on Lewis. He's the only collaborator to shift the style so forcefully. The final cut finds Lewis isolated though, with just voice and piano negotiating Miss The Mississippi And You. He doesn't usually need any star guests, but we're glad that they turned up anyway.