CD Review: Jason D. Williams, “Killer Instincts”

On “Like Jerry Lee,” the opening track to Jason D. Williams’ new album Killer Instincts, he deals right off the bat with the uncanny similarity — in look, ability and style — between the singer and rock ’n’ roll icon Jerry Lee Lewis: specifically, whether he may be the Killer’s next-of-kin. “I coulda found out once but I didn’t,” sings Williams, blasting out piano riffs so potent you can practically feel his fingers bleeding. “I figured either way it would be more than I could stand.”

Apparently there’s a back story between Lewis and Williams, a 51-year-old Memphis boogie-woogie piano marvel — something about a DNA test whose results was never revealed — but as Williams hints at on “Like Jerry Lee,” whether there’s a blood connection or not doesn’t really matter. When it comes to piano chops, a clear belief in the power and the glory of rock ’n’ roll, and unadulterated audacity, they are blood brothers in the best sense of the word.

Killer Instincts is Williams’ first album of original material, and it merges a 1950s style with a touch of new millennia edginess, and no small amount of humor. “You Look Like I Could Use a Drink,” a raucous rave-up, provides the best country catchphrase in years, and the breezy “Mr. Jesus” somehow manages to be cheeky and reverent at the same time: “I didn’t nail you there, but I love your hair,” sings Williams, and you get the sense he means it.

A few of the songs go off the tracks lyrically — he admits in the liner notes that the words to “If You Ever Saw a Baby With Its Pud,” about baby buggies and JFK’s death, were basically made up as he went along. But Williams more than makes up for it, on rollicking tracks like “Wine So-Dee-O-Dee” and “Really Really Pretty,” with a joyous musical drive that makes what passes for rock these days seem timid by comparison.

In fact, “Sanctified,” a nod to Elvis’ gospel period, may represent the most uplifting moment on a record this year — not bad for an album that will crack you up as often as it (to use a Williams-ism) blows your gosh-dang mind.