“From the rocking of the cradle to the rolling of the hearse, the going up was worth the coming down.” Jerry Lee Lewis, the hell-raiser’s hell-raiser, rounds off this collection of duets by repeating lines from the song he’s just sung, Kris Kristofferson’s The Pilgrim. It’s as good an epitaph as any for this relic of the birth of rock and roll.
The album’s title is a simple reflection of the fact that of the acts originally signed to Sam Phillips’ Sun Records – Elvis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison et al – Jerry Lee Lewis is the only one alive, and not just alive but returning to touring and recording after a too long gap.
To mark his return a stary lineup, including most of the grand old men of rock and country, have gathered to perform rocking standards with him – BB King, Springsteen, 3 Rolling Stones and a Beatle, Jimmy Page, Neil Young, and that’s just the first half dozen tracks!
It’s inconceivable that age should wither such a legend, and it clearly hasn’t; the album kicks off in energetic style with Led Zep‘s Rock And Roll, while the ‘pumpin’ piano’ is accompanied by Jimmy Page’s guitar, over which the Killer periodically whoops “Rock and Roll”, his voice still sweet and true as he slides over “Been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time”. The trademark purrs and growls that make the girls’ toes curl are still there too, particularly on Pink Cadillac.
Some voices (particularly Rod Stewart and Kris Kristofferson, sadly) are past their best, while others surprise. John Fogerty really rocks out on Travelin’ Band as does Buddy Guy on Hadacol Boogie, and George Jones turns in a great country swing performance on Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Age.Even people I can’t abide like Eric Clapton and Don Henley come out shiny and sweet smelling, touched by the Jerry’s Unholy Ghost. Best of all, the songs all sound immediate and fresh, with occasional stops and starts and asides. Last Man Standing sounds no more produced than those original Sun sessions, full of frenetic glissandos, tub-thumping and ye-ha vocals.
There are one or two things that don’t work. Kid Rock on Honky Tonk Woman is curious, and not in a good way, and the song has a strange staccato chorus and odd inclusion of a female choir. And Toby Keith singing Old Glory is pretty dreary. But you soon forget those when the main event draws near, Jerry Lee and that other great 50s pianoman, Little Richard joining together for a blistering version of the Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There.