What we have here is the four-sided sequel to Chuck Berry’s phenomenally successful London Sessions — except that Chuck has been replaced by Jerry Lee Lewis. It is an enjoyable, if overstuffed record, filled with genuine interplay between Lewis and the English rock stars who accompany him. It is also a very minor piece of work, in no way as good as Lewis’ original Memphis singles nor his Nashville country albums. And the preponderance of overly familiar material cuts down on the capacity for his fans to enjoy it, as the recreations of hits (“High School Confidential,” “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Down The Line”) as well as oldie staples (“Johnny B. Goode,” “Memphis” and “What’d I Say”) inevitably invite comparison with superior originals.
The English rhythm sections, which include such luminaries as Kenny Jones and Klaus Voorman, more than hold their own. But the album suffers from a surfeit of hysterical Alvin Lee guitar, extraneous organ accompaniment, and prolonged and aimless riffing and jamming. Good backup or bad, it doesn’t seem to matter to Jerry Lee, who plows through everything with nearly the same mixture of nonchalance and enthusiasm. When he shouts “Play it, son,” I have a feeling he doesn’t care which son or how long he plays, just as long as the spotlight returns to where it belongs when the son is finished.
And, make no mistake about it, he does get off more than a few times. The album would deserve to exist if the only thing on it was the inspired version of “Drinking Wine Spo-Dee O’Dee.” He stretches for the notes and works at keeping his breath, but if Richard could lose his at the end of “Jenny, Jenny” then it must be a sign that Jerry is doing something right. And he is — sweating. It’s a great song, long since forgotten, with a chorus that every 13-year-old in the country will be singing by the time the single finishes its ride on AM: “Drinking wine, wine, wine.”
Lewis seems to take more time with some of the slower and off-beat material. Charlie Rich’s “No Headstone on My Grave,” “Pledging My Love,” “Early Morning Rain,” “Trouble In Mind,” and a ragtag rendition of “Sixty Minute Man” are all superior to the big jams and obvious orgy numbers. I expected to enjoy “Sea Cruise” but it sounds too much like the rest of the shuffles. His familiarity has bred a bit of contempt, boredom or both. The performance never comes close to my memory of the brilliant Frankie Ford-Bob-by Marchan-Huey Smith original.
The Session wasn’t a bad idea. With more discipline in the performances and arrangements, as well as more imagination in the selection of material, it could have been first-rate. As is, it makes a great party record, a good introduction to Jerry Lee Lewis, and contains maybe a side’s worth of fine rock & roll music. And a good side of Jerry Lee is still worth the entire catalogue of most of the people playing with him.