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JERRY LEE LEWIS A Whole Lotta...Jerry Lee Lewis Salvo 5884102 (2012)

Jerry Lee Lewis

When you issue a 4 CD box for an artist like Jerry Lee Lewis, and subtitle it sub title it 'The Definitive Retrospective', there's not much room for error. Die-hard fans will scan every anecdote, relive every chunk of chronological historic and listen again to every musical high, low and occasional musical curiosity of an artist who explored country, blues, r&b and gospel as well as his own unique brand of rock & roll.

Happily the painstakingly researched 'A Whole Lotta...Jerry lee Lewis' comes up trumps, even to the point that the notably absent Hamburg session career highlight with The Nashville Teens is referred to and its absence excused by the scholarly but fan driven liner notes of Roger Dopson. The 3000 word book comes with a raft of photos, highlighted quotes and a real sense of its subject, certainly enough to guide the listener through an exhaustive 106 tracks amounting to just under 5 hours of 'The Killer'.

JLL fans will probably have the 1993 'All Killer, No Filler' anthology, but the real choice here is between that succinct 2 cd outing or this exhaustively researched and 4 cd definitive box set complete with additional 60 tracks and book crammed with lots of photos.

Whole Lotta' gives the material a chronological and contextual coherence reflecting on the times, the tensions, the career ruptures and Jerry Lee's come backs that account for the broad stylistic diversity.

This is particularly so on CD 1 which opens with his first laid back session 'Crazy Arms' and takes us through the first batch of singles including the original B side 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' . And aside from his frenetic piano playing on a cover of 'Turn On Your Love Light', which is perfectly suited to his 'in the moment' style, it's Jerry's relaxed vocal phrasing that sets him apart form his peers. This is especially so on 'You Win Again', with echoes of one of his earliest influences Al Jolson. His causal but effective use of dynamics on 'Breathless' and an almost nonchalant laid back vocal approach to Ray Charles 'What I Say' are also impressive.

By the time of 'Baby Hold Me Close he's really got the measure of the recorded performance on a great production job, making his later forays into country as explored in CD 2 all the more disappointing, albeit they are explained in the booklet.

But even with the shift to a more sedate approach he exudes a certain charm with his intuitive phrasing ability as on the troubled alcoholic's narrative of 'There Stands The Glass' (which could have been written for him) as well as on his harmony duet with sister Linda Gail Lewis on 'Don't Let Me Cross Over' and the alternate verses on 'Jackson'.

Then there's the plucked string intro of 'One Minute Past Eternity' which sees his piano playing in a new light as an accompanist rather than a front line player. The situation is soon rectified on the following 'Roll Over Beethoven', though the number is all but drowned by some horrible bv's. And as you work your way through the material and the career changes you do become subsumed by his charisma, whether on his Johnny Cash style rendition of Merle Haggard's 'Workin' Man's Blues' or his version of Jimmy Rogers' Waiting For A Train' and the thematically linked, train time rhythm of 'Sweet Georgia Brown', which lurches him back to his rocking style, albeit with a fiddle.

At times it all feels a long way from 'Good Rockin Tonight' to the overbearing ballads like 'Would You Take Another Chance On Me' . And the more you delve into the music the more you realise that the good folk behind this 4 cd box set are almost willing their hero back to his rock & roll hey-day, when in fact what they have to deal with is a surfeit of soppy country that stands in sharp contrast to his true rock & roll persona.

CD 3 opens with a spontaneous rap; - 'this is the killer speaking'- as if he's trying to resurrect his rocking reputation. But its a mixed back with a restrained rather than pumping piano style, while his cover of The Big Bopper's 'Chantilly Lace' comes with strings and sugary bv's.

'Lonely Weekends' gets closer to his trademark piano led rocking, but then he's soon into the gospel tinged 'Me And Jesus' and adds a dramatic string intro to another early 70's country outing 'No Traffic Out Of Abilene', while John Fogerty's 'Bad Moon Rising' is just a poor choice with a plodding arrangement to boot.

By the time of 'Ride Me Down Easy' non believers might dismiss the forgettable country efforts and that certainly applies to the anodyne 'He Can't Fill My Shoes', though his flame does flicker on 'Just A Little Bit' on which he stutters his vocals over a sleazy horn arrangement.

'Honey Hush' sounds like a very belated coda to his early career rock & roll though his vocals are as ragged as his piano playing is fierce, while the mid 70's 'House of Blue Light' in a surprising exercise in cool.

And so to CD 4 which hits a groove on 'I Don't Want To Be Lonely Tonight', but the title of 'Jerry Lee's Rock & Roll Revival Show' just about gives away the state of his career and he's not helped by the dirgy spoken word gospel/country of 'The Closest Thing To You'. 'Tennessee Saturday Night' is much better while 'Rockin My Life Away' restores some balance and having explored all other styles he goes back to the blues with 'Who Will The Next Fool Be', but that is almost immediately compromised by the overbearing strings of the appalling When Two Worlds Collide' and 'Over the Rainbow'

There's still time for some good time rocking though, with 'My Fingers Do The Talkin', though his voice is ragged and swamped in ridiculous bv's

And as he restates his credential and hollers 'I'm a southern boy from Louisiana', Jerry Lee does indeed return to his rocking roots on 'Honky Tonk Rock 'n' Roll Piano Man' and 'Why Have You Been Gone So Long', complete with raging guitar and busy horns

The 4 CD set suitably finishes with 'Wild One', but in truth it's a ragged rather than convincing bookend to an extensive compilation and certainly doesn't represent much of what has gone before. But 'A Whole Lotta…JLL' does come close to its 'Definitive Retrospective ' claim and if nothing else gives you a books worth of explanation as to why for a large part of his career Jerry Lee swapped rock & roll for the middle ground.


Review by Pete Feenstra


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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