Back in the 1950s, the piano could feel like a dangerous instrument. Artists like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis pushed the piano’s limits, infusing unbridled talent with punk rock energy. Veronica Lewis brings a similar spirit to You Ain’t Unlucky, her debut album.
As someone untrained in piano—other than the low-grade Billy Joel-induced keyboard fog that envelops anyone within 50 miles of Long Island—Little Richard and Lewis always felt rooted in a certain amount of technical expertise. They unleashed a flurry of notes with a precision that seemed unique to piano. Where a lot of 1950s guitar work was raw and primal, it was also possible to re-create at home, given enough practice. The great piano rockers felt like they were channeling the alternate universe version of Beethoven who smoked behind school and constantly cracked his knuckles for pugilistic and musical purposes. Lewis and her piano work fit right into that lineage, rocking with a proficiency that makes you feel a little bit scared, in a very cool way.
Lewis, working with a sax and drums, also has a strong voice that works well for her songs. But it’s the rollicking piano, which feels a little out-of-control, even as she nails the melodies and holds the songs together, deliberate and in control. “Clarksdale Sun” bops out of another era into ours, Lewis finding space to solo, stretching out long enough to grab our attention, and then yo-yoing back to the song. Saxophonist Don Davis takes some moments to shine, but the track is pretty much all Lewis from start to finish.
On “Fool Me Twice,” it’s only Lewis and drummer Mike Walsh, giving Lewis even more sonic ground to stretch out. She uses the opportunity to bang out gorgeous solo runs, but also uses an effect that makes her piano sound like a steel drum. The brief sonic deviation pops because the songs are all arranged with the same instrumentation. But coming in at eight songs, you never tire of her sound, even though she keeps the arrangements tight.
The funny thing about You Ain’t Unlucky is that it sounds timeless, even though it’s rooted in such a specific time. Most of us know and recognize that 1950s style, and even if it’s not your go-to music, it’s probably part of the fabric of your musical taste, as a blues and rock fan. Lewis taps into that past and the album works, not only because Lewis is so talented, but also because that style of music is still great. There are lots of intellectual reasons to explain why the album is so enjoyable: mostly the efficient track list and disciplined instrumentation that never goes beyond a trio. But the true pleasure of the album is Lewis’ piano playing, which would still sound fun if she had recorded them 70 years from now in either direction.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Fool Me Twice
– Memphis Train
– Put Your Wig on Mama
– Clarksdale Sun
The Big Hit
– Clarksdale Sun