Jerry Lee Lewis Last Man Standing: The Duets

If the saying is true that "only the good die young,” then Jerry Lee Lewis really is the devil. But those days of marrying cousins, shooting bass players and threatening Elvis are all long past. The point of this record, as with the final efforts by Johnny Cash and Ray Charles, is to preserve Lewis’s legacy as one of the great stylists of American music, as he himself always defined his talent. Given his age and ornery reputation, Last Man Standing is a major accomplishment of this task, and hardly a surprise that it took five years to complete. Although the huge number of major guests gives the album the slightly morbid feel of a living wake for the Killer, all of them wisely stay out his way, even when the song is one of their own. The best example is the opening blast of "Rock And Roll” — yes, the Zep tune, with Jimmy Page in tow — which comes off more like a Lewis outtake from ’56, complete with heavily echoed vocals. Elsewhere, Lewis’s unquestioned mastery of blues and country is showcased alongside the likes of B.B. King and George Jones, but it is some unexpected pathos that provides the album’s best highlights. While he has always done sad songs with a knowing wink, Lewis’s version of Robbie Robertson’s "Twilight” is perhaps the most naked performance he has ever recorded. A close second is closer "The Pilgrim,” with composer Kris Kristofferson, which provides the best epitaph any rock’n’roller could hope for: "The going up was worth the coming down.” Who could have imagined that Jerry Lee Lewis would have the last laugh? But, as Last Man Standing proves, you can’t defeat genius, especially when it’s pure evil. (Shangri-La)