Liner Note Author: Laurence Zwisohn.
Photographer: Jim Shea.
In 1979, as Jerry Lee Lewis' run on the country charts seemed to be drying up, he signed with Elektra Records, and with producer Bones Howe he cut a self-titled album that was easily the strongest and liveliest thing the Killer had released in a decade. Recorded live in the studio in three days with a hot studio band (including James Burton on guitar), Jerry Lee Lewis was a rollicking mix of rock & roll, vintage R&B, and country that fully lived up to his over-the-top legend. Though the two Eddie Kilroy-produced LPs that followed didn't quite live up to its excellence, When Two Worlds Collide and Killer Country (both released in 1980) were still solid, spirited work that showed Jerry Lee was far from a spent force. 2016's Rockin' My Life Away is a collection that brings together 14 songs from Lewis' Elektra sessions, and if this leans a bit hard on the more polished country material from this era, it still ranks with Jerry Lee's best record making of the '70s and '80s. Lewis is sly and casually authoritative on rockin' numbers like "Don't Let Go" and "Rita May" (the latter penned by Bob Dylan), unexpectedly impassioned on such old standards as "Over the Rainbow" and "Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye," he pulls out all his best crying-in-your-bourbon moves on "Who Will the Next Fool Be" and "Who Will Buy the Wine," and plays piano like no one else throughout. In 1991, Warner Bros. put out a sampler of Lewis' Elektra sides (also called Rockin' My Life Away), and it's the better album, if only because it has 20 tracks instead of 14, and includes the Jerry Lee Lewis album in full. But Varèse Sarabande's take on this material is still a good listen and with the Warner collection out of print, this is a welcome look back at an underappreciated phase in the always unpredictable career of Jerry Lee Lewis. ~ Mark Deming