“Before the Night Is Over” / Jerry Lee Lewis and B. B. King
Duet albums? I’m sick of ‘em. The record companies have jumped on this gimmick to revive an aging artist’s career at the end of his/her days – Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles, two cases in point. So I was skeptical about buying last year’s Jerry Lee Lewis duet album – but I shouldn’t have been.
I should have been able to tell from its title, Last Man Standing (not to mention the cover shot of Jerry Lee hammering away at a grand piano that’s burst into flames), that this wouldn’t be a mere exercise in coasting. No collaborators made the cut unless they were willing to let Jerry Lee, the original wild man of rock ‘n’ roll, tear loose and take the lead. And it works because his playing AND singing are in prime form. The liner notes claim that this project breathed new life into Jerry Lee, who'd been sick and basically out of commission until rock 'n' roll came to the rescue. You sure can't tell it, though, by listening to this album. Respect must be paid.
My favorite track, from the very first listen, has been track #2, “Before the Night Is Over,” which teams Jerry Lee up with B.B. King, two old masters trading off sizzling solos between the verses. Jerry Lee so completely rocks the joint with his honky-tonk piano, B.B.is hard put to take the spotlight when it comes his turn -- and to give him credit, he seems happy just to let Jerry Lee shine. God bless both of them.
It’s a cunning old blues song by Ben Peters, sung by Jerry Lee with just the right amount of sexy swagger. Just get a load of the chorus: “And before the night is over you're gonna be in love / I bet you by the mornin', I'll be the only one that you'll be thinkin' of.” The way he hits that word “love” -- now there is CONFIDENCE. Jerry Lee may be 80 years old but he still knows what it means to have mojo. Those insouciant glissandos, the twiddling grace notes, the pounding chords – here is a man in charge. Listening to this for the first time in my car, I couldn’t help but shift in my seat and think, “All right, Jerry Lee, show me what you’re made of.”
Of course it’s also wheedling, and more than a little opportunistic: “I can tell by the way you're a little bit lonesome baby [“just like Jerry Lee," he can’t resist tossing in, winsomely] / It's just like someone that you're needing to forget / Honey, that's the same thing with me / I've been wonderin' baby, why don't we / Just make believe it ain't the first time we have met.” Nothing like taking advantage of a woman when she’s on the rebound. All the same, that chuckling drawl lets her know that he won’t feel hurt if she turns him down. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But if she’s up for a little fun, fun’s what this tomcat can deliver. Grrr-owll.
Confession time: I still prefer to picture Jerry Lee as Dennis Quaid in the movie Great Balls of Fire, and, okay, I have a thing for Dennis Quaid. Until I saw that movie I didn’t get the point of Jerry Lee. But listening to this new CD, with this wild man raging against the dying of the light, I have to say…whoo-ah.