Jerry Lee Lewis--Mean Old Man (Verve Forecast): Just days from turning 75, Jerry Lee
has released his first album in four years and it brings his artistry right up front, even if it doesn't always catch fire. For one of those records padded with stars (Keith Richards, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, etc.), it works pretty well, as most of that crew stays out of his way. They're not that hard to tune out when you want to hear the Killer by his lonesome. I dig the uptempo stuff the best--"Rockin' My Life Away" and "Roll Over Beethoven" have that groove that Lewis that fueled his Sun recordings from day one, and his vocal delivery on the slower songs (like the title cut) is authoritative, too. Not scintillating, as Jerry Lee's piano playing is mixed too low, but perhaps Mean Old Man will point the uninitiated to the rough and tumble Sun era or some of his over-the-top live recordings from the '60s. That Jerry Lee was driven, mean and extraordinary.
Gary U.S. Bonds--Let Them Talk (GLA): Bonds (Gary Anderson) still has a terrific upper vocal register that pushes this fine set, originally released in 2009, forward. How could this be as uproarious as 1960's "New Orleans"? It couldn't happen, but flirtatious humor abounds, just like the old days. "If I Live Through This"--where the singer's new love just happens to mention her (ex?) boyfriend's release from the pen--and a series of tracks built around a Chuck Berry beat really bring it home. Two covers seem to be in perfect tune with his roots, Little Willie John's "Let Them Talk" and Faye Adams' "Shake a Hand," the latter with a type of friendliness I don't hear often enough in this century.
Eilen Jewell--Butcher Holler: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn (Signature Sounds): Jewell is
still young (31), but her spin on classic country has the depth of a much older vocalist. Aided by Jerry Miller (of Moby Grape fame) on guitar and several tunes that I'd simply forgotten about, this is a top drawer project. Jewell moves easily from the gorgeous "Whispering Sea" to one of those funky put-downs that Lynn is known for, "Deep As Your Pocket." Everybody remembers songwriters like Harlan Howard or Willie Nelson, but when will Lynn (or Cindy Walker from the Bob Wills era) get her due in that regard? My pal Charles is right--Loretta Lynn was ahead of her time. When you hear how deeply Jewell gets into these songs, you'll start asking questions about why Lynn isn't mentioned in the same breath as other country composers.
Eels--Tomorrow Morning (E Works): Eels is basically the work of Mark Oliver Everett, known as E. How ambitious is this: E has put out three albums within the last 18 months or so. Following Hombre Loco (2009) and the often melancholy End Times from earlier this year, Tomorrow Morning is more upbeat and fun. Even though I'm surprised I've listened to it so much, since synths and drum machines are a large part of its sonic texture, the album sports a human touch throughout. My favorite is the hilarious
"The Man," where for once, everyone and anyone makes E feel like he's conquered the world: "The old homeless guy who smells like pee/Stops talking nonsense and
says, ' 'mornin', E'."