Linda Gail Lewis isn’t shy about her lineage, referencing her more famous—or infamous—brother throughout Wild! Wild! Wild! The old-school rock n’ roll of the album will doubtlessly remind plenty of Jerry Lee Lewis, but that’s just one jumping-off point for Fulks and the younger sister of the so-called Killer. Much of the album is written by Fulks, a Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist whose career has spanned the breadth of roots-focused genres. He double-dips by serving as producer and zeroes in on the sound of early Sun Studio. The set recalls the work of not just Jerry Lee Lewis, but Carl Perkins, B.B. King, and Johnny Cash, among many others.
Few phrases cause more dread among fans of popular music and theater than “jukebox musical.” It’s a genre in which well-known songs usually get grafted onto a wafer-thin plot. Sometimes the results are charming (“Mamma Mia!”)but works that focused on Hank Williams and Buddy Holly have left plenty to be desired. Yet if Peter Guralnick’s recent book on Sun Studio founder Sam Phillips ever makes its way to stage or screen, here’s hoping Fulks and Lewis get the scoring gig. Their originals would not only fit the tone, but give it a modern edge.
Don’t be mistaken: Wild! Wild! Wild! is not a throwback, nostalgia-obsessed affair. On the opening “Round Too Long,” Linda Gail Lewis lets loose a bit of a growl and delivers a show-stopping line: “When the girls was playin’ at jump rope/I was playin’ the men for fools.” And with that, the 71 year-old artist, who throughout her sporadic solo career has earned a cult following and once collaborated with Van Morrison, makes it clear she’s been flipping the script on the patriarchy since a young age and will continue to do so here.
What follows are 13 tracks, a mix of covers and originals, that alternately reflect on a life of hard living while underlining the fact these musicians aren’t done racking up regrets. The waltzing ballad “That’s Why They Call It Temptation” sees Lewis and Robbie Fulks trading verses while documenting the horrors of growing old and dreaming of a one-night affair. Later, the playful guitars and romantic backing vocals on “Who Cares” have fun at the narrator’s expense: Lewis and Fulks have been around long enough to know heartbreak is largely selfish and solitary. Then we get “Till Death,” a glib revenge song that gets more macabre with each verse.
Throughout, the tone conveys light-stepping and fun, but never turns slight. “Boogie Woogie Country Gal,” a gender-swapped nod to the Jerry Lee Lewis hit, showcases Lewis’ own fiery piano skills while bringing women to the fore. Fulks takes the lead on “I Just Lived a Country Song,” in which the woe-is-me tales of old songs start to hit closer and closer to home. At times, as on the latter, the violin feels lifted from a barroom. Elsewhere, such as with “Foolmaker,” church-like keys provide a soulful, gospel feel. “Memphis Never Falls from Style” shifts between bluegrass and jazz, with an assist on clarinet from admired Chicago jazzman Eric Schneider
Hence, even on slower, woozier songs, Wild! Wild! Wild! teems life. As Lewis sings at one point, “This ain’t an old folks reunion.”
The review copy is black 180-gram vinyl, not the “transparent rock n’ roll red” vinyl offered on the Bloodshot Records’ website. It isn’t flat, but quiet with no distractions. The sound has solid bass foundation, more natural warmth than upper-frequency detail, and as the program material requires, it boogies! A bit more dynamic punch and contrast, especially on Lewis’ vocals, would have been welcome. Nonetheless, the audio gets the point across. Bloodshot’s nondescript direct-to-board jacket is notable only for its “wild” throwback design.
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