Friday, June 9, 2023

Linda Gail Lewis: “A Tribute To Jerry Lee Lewis” (2023) CD Review

Jerry Lee Lewis died on October 28, 2022, and the world lost one of the best rock and roll performers. Though somehow Elvis Presley ended up with the title King of Rock And Roll, to my thinking, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis were all miles above him. His sister Linda Gail Lewis had performed with him since her earliest days in the music business, and now offers A Tribute To Jerry Lee Lewis, an album that was actually in the works before he died. Here she delivers songs that her brother recorded during his long career, focusing on the early days. This disc also includes five other tracks that she recorded with Mickey Gilley. The band for most of the album is made up of Linda Gail Lewis on vocals and piano, Danny B. Harvey on guitar, Luca Chiappara on standup bass, Slim Jim Phantom on drums, and Annie Marie Lewis on backing vocals.

Linda Gail Lewis opens it with one of her brother’s most famous numbers, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” This version has that classic rock and roll sound, which is wonderful, and Linda Gail Lewis delivers a strong vocal performance that has quite a bit of attitude in it. So when she sings, “Oh, let’s go,” the cute aspect of her voice there comes as a surprise. Because, really, she is tearing into this one. And yes, there is some good stuff on keys. Of course there is. She is adorable in the second half when she starts riffing: “All you got to do, honey, is just stand that thing in one little old spot/Then you wiggle it around just a little bit/And that’s when you got something.” Wonderful! That’s followed by “Rockin’ My Life Away,” which feels fitting, one of its first lines mentioning throwing “a rock and roll party on my last birthday.” And as she sings here, it is good rocking our lives away. The energy is there again. This one was written by Mack Vickery.

“High School Confidential” is one that was co-written by Jerry Lee Lewis with Ron Hargrave, and was a hit for him in 1958. Linda Gail Lewis delivers a lively, hopping rendition. In addition to a pretty wild vocal performance, she is rocking that piano. And I love that guitar work. That’s followed by “I’m On Fire,” and she is certainly cooking here. I’m digging the power and attitude in her voice. And of course she gives us some more delicious work on keys. Then “It’ll Be Me” is a song that was written by Jack Clement, and was the flip side to Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” single. This is one of my personal favorites from this disc. Just listen to the way Linda Gail Lewis delivers these lines: “Well, if you hear somebody knocking on your door/If you see something crawling across the floor/Baby, it’ll be me/And I’ll be looking for you.” It sounds like the strangest threat ever, or perhaps a promise, and she makes it all sound possible, even likely. I love it. And yes, she makes those keys rock again here.

Linda Gail Lewis gets more firmly into the country realm with the Hank Williams gem “You Win Again,” which Jerry Lee Lewis released as the flip side to his “Great Balls Of Fire” single in 1957, though the first version I ever heard was by the Grateful Dead, on the Europe ’72 album. Anyway, it should be no surprise that Linda Gail Lewis does a tremendous job with this one, turning in one of the album’s best vocal performances. She had covered this song on You Win Again, an album of duets she did with Van Morrison. That’s followed by “Great Balls Of Fire,” another of her brother’s biggest hits. Linda Gail Lewis changes the line “Too much love drives a man insane” to “drives a girl insane.” She is clearly having a good time with this song, which you can hear especially when she sings “it feels good” and “but it sure is fun.” Then we get a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Go! Go! Go! Down The Line,” which Jerry Lewis released as “Down The Line” in 1958, on a single with “Breathless.” Linda Gail Lewis here calls it “Movin’ On Down The Line.” Whatever the title, it’s a fun number.

Jerry Lee Lewis released “Let’s Talk About Us” as a single in 1959. And Linda Gail Lewis is rocking this number too. “Well, you talk and talk and talk and talk/There’s been nothing said.” Well, those lines ring even truer when applied to politicians. I dig that instrumental section in the middle, particularly that guitar work. That’s followed by “Wild One.” This is a song that Jerry Lee Lewis recorded in the late 1950s, but didn’t release until 1974, including it on the Rockin’ And Free album. “Well, I’m just out of school,” she sings at the beginning of this one. Not quite, but still, this is fun. And while she may no longer be a “wild child,” as she sings here, she certainly gets wild on the keys. This song also refers to “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” She then goes back to the earliest recording of Jerry Lee Lewis, covering “Crazy Arms.” His single came out in 1956, showing he started his career with country (though his version is closer to rock and roll than Ray Price’s original rendition). Linda Gail Lewis’ version here is a bit more country than her brother’s. This is another song she had included on You Win Again.

The last couple of songs in the main section of this album were written by Jerry Lee Lewis. The first is “Lewis Boogie,” which is great fun. Jerry Lee Lewis released this song on a single in 1958. Of course Linda Gail Lewis changes the beginning to “My name is Linda Gail Lewis from Louisiana.” And then she gives us “End Of The Road.” This song was the flip side to his first single, released in 1956. “Well, the way is dark, the night is long/I don’t care if I never get home/I’m waiting at the end of the road.”

Gilley’s Last Ride

The world lost a lot of good people last year. In addition to Jerry Lee Lewis, we lost Mickey Gilley. In April of this year, Gilley’s Last Ride was released digitally. This is an EP of five songs featuring Mickey Gilley on vocals, Linda Gail Lewis on vocals and piano, and Danny B. Harvey on guitar. These tracks also include Mark Frappier on bass, Adam Hamilton on drums, and Annie Marie Lewis on backing vocals. Obviously, these tracks have a different tone from the rest of the album, but it’s good to have them on this disc. The first is a cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” They deliver a nice rendition, trading lines on the verses, then singing the chorus together. That’s followed by a cover of The Marvelettes’ “Playboy.” I particularly like when their voices blend on that final line, “We’ll find love.”

Things then do get rocking again on “Candy Man,” which feels much more in line with the rest of the album. Walter Daniels joins the band on harmonica for this one, delivering some excellent work. This track also features a delightful lead on piano in the second half. But perhaps the best of these Mickey Gilley tracks is “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” written by Scott Wiseman. They deliver a sweet rendition, featuring some strong vocal work, and more good stuff on piano. “I’m no good without you anyhow.” The disc concludes with “Don’t The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time,” another rocking song, in line with the main section of this release. This is one that was written by Baker Knight. Mickey Gilley recorded it in the 1970s, releasing it as a single, and he delivers another good rendition here.

CD Track List

  1. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On
  2. Rockin’ My Life Away
  3. High School Confidential
  4. I’m On Fire
  5. It’ll Be Me
  6. You Win Again
  7. Great Balls Of Fire
  8. Movin’ On Down The Line
  9. Let’s Talk About Us
  10. Wild One
  11. Crazy Arms
  12. Lewis Boogie
  13. End Of The Road
  14. Stand By Me
  15. Playboy
  16. Candy Man
  17. Have I Told You Lately That I Love You
  18. Don’t The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time

A Tribute To Jerry Lee Lewis was released on June 2, 2023 on Cleopatra Records.

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