BGO's 2015 two-fer pairs two mid-'70s albums from Jerry Lee Lewis -- 1974's I-40 Country and 1975's Odd Man In -- on a single CD. Jerry Lee Lewis didn't get much of a boost out of his 1973 return to rock & roll -- a revival arriving on two separate LPs, one recorded in England (The Session) and one back home (Southern Roots) -- so he slid back to country, scoring a hit with "Sometimes a Memory Ain't Enough" from the album of the same name. I-40 Country arrived a year later, easing into stores in 1974 under the guise of a truck-driving country LP. While these 11 songs do sound good on the open road, none of them are about big rigs or highways, nor do they roll along to a Bakersfield beat. No, they're straight-ahead barroom weepers punctuated by the very occasional novelty -- so occasional, it doesn't extend beyond "Alcohol of Fame." The opening pair of "Tell Tale Signs" and "He Can't Fill My Shoes" were hits -- reaching 18 and eight, respectively -- but the attention is often drawn to "Room Full of Roses," a version that coincided with a version his cousin Mickey Gilley turned into a career-making hit. Gilley sounds invested in his version but Jerry Lee sounds as if he's singing through a hangover, a (possible?) affectation that is also the key to the appeal of I-40 Country. Not one of his stronger records, either in terms of content or performance, it nevertheless has a bleary-eyed charm -- a record for mornings that arrived too quickly or road trips that are lasting hours too long. Oddly enough, 1975's Odd Man In didn't generate a single hit. Both "A Damn Good Country Song" and "Don't Boogie Woogie" couldn't manage to make it into the Country Top 40, a stumble that maybe could be chalked up to the Mickey Gilley mania that started to sweep the country in 1975 -- Andrew McRae argues as much in the liner notes to BGO's two-fer reissue of I-40 Country and Odd Man In -- but it's still kind of a shock to realize that a record as lively as this didn't gain much traction upon its release. It's heavy on boogie-woogie but finds plenty of place for ballads, and Lewis seems invested in his performances, too. Maybe this is because he's singing a lot of old standards, twisting them into songs that suit his bleary, defiant mood -- "Shake, Rattle & Roll" rolls hard, "Goodnight Irene" and "Crawdad Song" swing, as does "Your Cheatin' Heart" -- and he leans into the midtempo barroom country that dominates the record, turning it into something ornery but comforting: cantankerous country from one of the genre's kings. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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