The Killer’s little sister picks up the pieces of her patinated past to let them shine anew and properly establish her on musician’s musicians’ pedestal.
Those who happened to have watched Jerry Lee Lewis’ birthday bash, celebrating his 85th year on this planet, should remember who the star of the show was: the hero of the day’s younger sibling – a rock ‘n’ roll veteran in her own right, able to belt a tune and grind a boogie piano like there’s no tomorrow and now, at the age of 75, delivering a collection of songs from her first decade in the business before embarking on a new tour. She didn’t notched a lot of charts entries in the last half-century, and her hit-parade successes are omitted from here in favor of numbers, all remastered by Danny B. Harvey, that are more representative of Linda Gail’s grasp of various genres and its stylistic breadth, but what is included in “Early Sides” exposes Ms. Lewis as a worthy contender for the crown Wanda Jackson used to wear. She would slide towards traditional country and western at the end of the ’60s, yet in the beginning The Killer’s sister’s cuts sounded almost as murderous as his.
Linda Gail started at Sun Records, where her first brotherless single “Ain’t Nothin’ Shakin’ (But The Leaves On The Trees)” and her take on “C.C. Rider” – both perky pieces driven by producer Scotty Moore’s six strings, smeared with Luke Wright’s sax and sprinkled with her own piano – were laid down, while the balladry of “Sittin’ And Thinkin'” from the same 1963 session feels as feisty. It’s not as maudlin as “Small Red Diary” or as infectious as “Break Up The Party” from 1965 – which, despite orchestral backdrop, will come supported by a sparkling double-guitar twang courtesy of Harold Bradley and Jerry Reed – but when Jerry Lee’s voice and ivories and Charlie McCoy’s harmonica join the fun for “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)” to contrast Ms. Lewis’ girlish delivery, and the finely fleshed-out rockabilly licks of 1966’s “Jim Dandy” fill the air, the listener’s temperature is bound to rise… and cool down once “Who Will Be The Next One” and “My Heart Was The Last One To Know” draw on gospel solemnity and display Linda Gail as a fantastic country-soul performer. And a writer too, as suggested by 1969’s Appalachia of the vibrant “Louisiana” and sorrowful “Gather ‘Round Children” that’s encrusted with pedal steel and fiddle.
The kinfolk’s twin vocals also shine on 1970’s groovy “Before The Snow Flies” but the sister doesn’t need her legendary relative’s help on Chip Taylor’s MOR-ish “Working Girl” from 1971, nor on the hip-swinging “Smile, Somebody Loves You” from the following spring. There’s immense self-confidence to 1973’s “I Wanna Be A Sensuous Woman” that Linda Gail co-penned to rival Carole King’s “A Natural Woman” and to “I Should Have Not Fallen In Love With You” that brings this charming set to a close, stressing Ms. Lewis’ glorious stance. A rebellious revelation to many, she has all the rights to be considered a star today.