Jerry Lee Lewis

Southern Roots

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Southern Roots is commonly acknowledged as Jerry Lee Lewis' comeback, or at least his last great gasp. And, to a certain extent, that prevailing opinion is correct, since after this 1974 release, the quality of the Killer's releases fluctuate, but this attitude also implies that the Mercury records that preceded it were weak, which they were not (inconsistent, perhaps, but all worthy). Southern Roots got the attention not just because it was deliberately touted as a comeback, but because it had the form, presentation, and attitude of a rock record, not least because there's a fair share of oldies here. Apart from the gospel closer, country has been consciously removed from the menu, a move that feels like the producer's choice, since Lewis' performances aren't all that much different or more impassioned than what came before. Sure, "Meat Man" is gleefully lascivious and sports a carnal growl not heard in years on his records, but it's the exception that proves the rule, since the rest of the record is as on-point as the country records of the early '70s. Jerry Lee doesn't sound relieved to be in this setting; he simply sounds like himself, barrelling through a set of songs as he twists them to suit his needs. He's supported by a crack band who may be a little bit too polished to give this the kick that it allegedly has, but it's nevertheless highly enjoyable, particularly when the Killer throws in something unexpected, like slowing down "Hold on I'm Coming" to a sexy crawl or finding more spirit in "Haunted House" than "Blueberry Hill." And the latter points out a bit of a problem with the record -- just enough of the song selections are too pat, as if the producers were saying, "Wouldn't it be great if Jerry Lee did 'When a Man Loves a Woman'?" instead of finding something he'd be great at singing. That doesn't make for a bad record, and it is indeed a good listen, but it does mean Southern Roots does show its seams, which is one of the reasons why it feels more like a manufactured comeback than an actual comeback.

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