Rockabilly is the illegitimate child of Country and Rock and Roll. So it’s only fitting that Rockin’ Jason D. Williams (the illegitimate child of Rockabilly legend Jerry Lee Lewis) should be the one to carry the Rockabilly banner into the 21st century. Covering Million Dollar Quartet members Elvis and Johnny Cash as well as Johnny Horton and Hank Williams, (among others) “Hillbillies And Holy Rollers" is Williams’ tribute to his musical (and biological) influences. But rather than give a documentary-like faithfulness to the originals, Williams reworks and reinvents the songs to make them uniquely his own.
Opening the album and title track with, “Well, the sun rises early in Memphis…” Williams acknowledges both the city and the studio where it all began. Fittingly, he records this album in the fabled Sun Studios as well. Inheriting his father’s manic piano style, Williams opens the album with some killer piano licks of his own. Singing, “The more things change the more they feel the same. The way we did it in ’55 is how it’s done today,” he proves that when something works, there’s no need to fix it.
The second song, “This Is Rock and Roll,” is even more indebted to his dad, opening with the piano intro from “Whole Lotta’ Shakin’.” With a great driving piano and base line, punctuated by some Chuck Berry style licks on guitar, the chorus shouts, “What is rock and roll?” to which Williams responds, “This is rock and roll.” Although the question was already answered by the driving rhythm.
Williams continues his assault on the ol’ 88s through the rest of the album (the remainder of which are covers.) He breathes new life into Johnny Cash’s “Folsum Prison” (Blues) by changing the syncopation, speeding up the tempo and adding some boogie woogie piano riffs. If you just heard the music without the lyrics, you’d never even know it was the same song.
After slowing down a bit for his heartfelt duet with Sarah Gayle Meech on Hank William’s “You Win Again,” Williams kicks up his heels again on Joe Ely’s “Fingernails;” even outpacing Ely’s frenetic original.
Williams lights up some lesser known nuggets on Johnny Horton’s “Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor” and the Elvis soundtrack song, “Mean Woman Blues.” If you didn’t know better, you’d swear you were listening to a younger Jerry Lee Lewis blistering through these two rockers.
Williams also dabbles in some jazz themes with “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “House Of Blue Lights.” But since the album is called Hillbillies And Holy Rollers, Williams ends with two old time gospel numbers, “Old Time Religion” and “I’ll Fly Away,” But someone forgot to tell his piano, because it still rocks out even as he sings of “God’s celestial shore.”
If you’re going to cover the best, you’d better bring your “A” game. And that’s what Rockin’ Jason D. Williams brings to this collection. He captures the true spirit of rockabilly’s early days: fast, loose and teetering on the edge of control. Like I said before, when something works, there’s no need to fix it!