Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Anyone who has been married nine times, almost died from substance abuse and, oh yeah, was a member of her wildman older brother Jerry Lee Lewis’ band with whom she sang duets has some stories to tell. Enter roots folk-rocker Robbie Fulks providing late career assistance for Linda Gail Lewis to help voice some of them.
The combination of Fulks’ studio know-how (he has 13 solo albums under his belt), songwriting prowess and industry connections along with Lewis’ powerful vocals, rollicking piano work and a sassy attitude that 50 years in the country/rockabilly trenches brings (the nine marriages likely contributed too) may not be a match made in heaven but, like the finest collaborations, it brings out the best in both artists. Fulks pens seven of the 13 tracks and helped curate the rest, plus assembled a band of veterans like Telecaster master Redd Volkaert to give the talented Lewis full room to shine.
Which she does masterfully, shifting between the feisty humorous country of “Till Death” (“We said till death do us part, and that’s now”), dueting the Tammy Wynette-styled part next to Fulks’ George Jones in “That’s Why They Call It Temptation,” and banging the 88s like brother Jerry Lee on the appropriately titled and rowdy “Boogie Woogie Country Gal.” She shifts into banjo-led folk/blues for “Memphis Never Falls From Style” and goes full-bore Chuck Berry rocking on the title track, where she trades vocal licks with Fulks before launching into a fiery piano solo worthy of her famous relative. She even swings some jazzy C&W on a jaunty cover of Don Gibson’s “Who Cares” and the organ driven, finger-popping “Your Red Wagon.” The twosome nod to the music’s church origins by resurrecting the traditional country gospel classic “On the Jericho Road,” a song Lewis once sang with Jerry Lee when they were kids, done here in a peppy acoustic style with strains of bluegrass.
Despite the joint billing, this is primarily a showcase for Lewis’ long under-appreciated vocal and keyboard talents. But Fulks holds his own singing lead on the barroom honky-tonk of “I Just Lived a Country Song,” an original that could easily have been plucked from the Jones songbook. He also shines on the sweet, melancholy soulful ballad “Foolmaker,” another original where his easygoing voice borrows some of Gram Parsons’ honeyed approach.
Linda Gail was briefly thrust into the spotlight when she hooked up with Van Morrison in 2000 for the moderately successful collaborative You Win Again. But with Fulks’ assistance she gets long overdue love on this organic, joyful partnership that sounds like the participants had as much fun putting it together as you will spending 45 exuberant minutes listening to it.
Nothing epitomizes this terrific twosome better than “It Came From the South,” nearly hidden away at track twelve. It’s where the earthy roots that exude from every song are put into historical perspective with “Black or white, blues or hillbilly/ it’s got a rhythm that’s knocking me silly” as Lewis pounds away on piano like she was born to make this music.
Which clearly she was.