There was always a little country, and a little gospel, in Jerry Lee Lewis’ groundbreaking rock sides for Sun Records — and, more than 55 years later, not much has changed. The title track for a forthcoming album from the suddenly resurgent 78-year-old dives directly into the same three rivers of his musical youth, even as Lewis poses for the cover in front of the same Memphis studios where he made his name.
“Rock and Roll Time,” originally found on Kris Kristofferson’s 1974 album Spooky Lady’s Sideshow, heralds the Killer’s third long-player since 2006, and like both Last Man Standing and Mean Old Man (which followed four years later), he’s promising another all-star cast. The pleasant surprise of this rollicking advance track is that, although it does indeed feature guests like Bernard Fowler, Doyle Bramhall II and Vonda Shepard, Lewis remains a sturdy and engaged presence in the center of things.
It’s his song, his show, an increasingly rare thing on these modern recordings. Elsewhere, members of the Rolling Stones (Keith Richards, Ron Wood), the Band (Robbie Robertson), the Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band (Nils Lofgren) are promised as collaborators, as is Neil Young, Shelby Lynne and others. Meaning there may not be as many uncluttered opportunities later to appreciate all over again the enduringly ornery delights found here. Lewis still sounds as dangerous as ever.
And he’s brought along some top-notch songs: Lewis is covering two from Chuck Berry (including “Little Queenie”), along with others from Bob Dylan (“Stepchild”), Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues”), Jimmy Rodgers (“Blues Like Midnight”) and Lynyrd Skynrd (“Mississippi Kid”). Rock and Roll Time, due October 28, 2014 via Vanguard Records, is set to arrive the same day as a Lewis biography, penned by Rick Bragg.