Jerry Lee Lewis, Jerry Lee Lewis

Lenny Kaye

By Lenny Kaye

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

It would take country music to let the world see the vulnerable singer behind Jerry Lee Lewis 'wild-man rock & roll antics. The burning pianos, the rag-mop of golden hair, the child bride, that was the Killer — whenever things threatened to go tame, he'd take his hand and rake it across the keys, or stand up and pound the 88's, bending the microphone stand into submission, making sure the audience stayed riveted, awestruck. Unrestrained, he seemed a beast let loose, id escaping even as the superego of a great artist reined it in, and the records of his golden era — "Whole Lot of Shakin 'Goin 'On," "Breathless" and "Great Balls of Fire" — pushed the boundaries of '50s propriety.

Scandal exiled Lewis to country music in the mid '60s, and surprisingly, in such a moralistic atmosphere, he flourished. Penance makes for great songs — "What Made Milwaukee Famous" is a classic morning-after tale of hangover regret — but Jerry Lee didn't so much reform as accommodate country's guilty pleasures, retaining his wink and sly leer. But have no fear: with the Berry canon of "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Johnny B. Goode," and the good-natured lasciviousness of the Big Bopper ("Chantilly Lace"), this collection quickly returns Mr. Lewis to his infernal rock & roll roots.