The Two Sides of Linda Gail Lewis (Smash SRS-67119)

On her very first album, Jerry Lee Lewis' younger sister establishes herself as one of the finest female country & western vocalists performing today. She sounds as good as all but two or three country chicks who've ever recorded. Not bad at age twenty-two. Linda has one of the strongest deliveries going, stronger than Janis and stronger than most black girls save for older gospel singers. Although she's Jerry Lee's younger sister, she's by no means his "little" sister; she's a very big, sexy girl, nearly six feet tall. Power she has aplenty, but as we've all heard, power is not necessarily art. Linda has a lot more than pure power; she possesses a profoundly resonant voice and a beautiful sobbing delivery that I've only heard equaled by the late Patsy Cline. Linda now sounds like a less nasal, more powerful, less controlled and more soulful June Carter.

From listening to this LP and attending several of her recent performances, I believe Linda may be one the very few white girls in American popular music to emerge as a great singer, deseving equal recognition with many great black artists of American musical history. Her brother has done it, and her initial efforts indicate she may do it too. True, many country women have approached Ma Rainey, Memphis Minnie, and Billie Holiday, but most of them have found themselves too restricted by the idiom to have gained the wider recognition of the great black singers. Linda, however, also sings boss rock and rolls and R&B (though not on this album). In performance with her manically gifted brother, she proves that she's as good as any rocker around.

Unlike her new LP with Jerry Lee (Together, Smash SRS-67126), Two Sides is all country. With the exception of the first two songs on side one, which stink, the cuts range from good to stone soul dynamite. Even working with mediocre material, Linda wails convincingly, and on all tracks the fiddles and steel guitar provide excellent accompaniment, occasionally taking off for some superb solos.

Among the best cuts: "He's Loved Me Much Too Much," the strongest song on the album, written by Linda and Cecil Harrelson (Jerry Lee's business partner and road manager). It is delivered with the most beautiful sobbing technique I've ever heard and is backed by excellent steel and fiddle work. "Don't Let Me Cross Over" is a country oldie on which Linda duets with her brother. Tighter, more soulful harmony you'll rarely hear. Finally there's "T-H-E E-N-D," an exuberantly mean, "tough luck, jack" divorce song that is a welcome alternative to Tammy Wynette's weepy, maudlin pop and country hit of 1968, "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." There's a female passivity complex prevalent among many country girls, exemplified by the "you-cheat-on-me-and/or-always-come-home-drunk-but-I-still-love-you" ditties often heard on country and pop stations. It's good, for a change , to hear a country song and singer with female assertiveness.

If you dig country music or good female vocalists, don't miss this album. Don't be put off by the ridiculous record packet or Linda's present single, the worst song on the record (the best is the B-side, naturally), an overly commercial thing called "South Side Soul Society Chapter #1." The rest of the album is powerful, unpretentiously moving, and a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.


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