For his follow-up to 2006’s Last Man Standing and 2010’s Mean Old Man, Jerry Lee Lewis once again invites his famous friends to play on some old favorites. This time, though, he’s not in a duetting mood. Lewis relegates the likes of Keith Richards, Robbie Robertson, Neil Young and Nils Lofgren to guitar and backing vocals – making this less a star-studded spectacle than a personal statement, with the 79-year-old singer bringing his voice and piano to several blues standards, a couple of Chuck Berry tunes and an unexpected Dylan deep cut (“Stepchild”).
Lewis’ tortured heart is still a primary concern – see his version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Mississippi Kid” and his update of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” But the singer, who has scored dozens of country Top 10s in his six-decade career, shines most brightly on the downtempo laments of the Kris Kristofferson-penned title track and the lonely barroom plea “Keep Me in Mind.” The latter in particular – an obscure, previously unpublished song from longtime collaborator Mack Vickery – recalls the best of the Nashville ballads the Killer cut in the late Sixties. Despite its title, Rock & Roll Time actually ends up making a better case for revisiting Lewis’ oft-ignored legacy as a country hitmaker.