Picks and Pans Review: Tore Up

updated 06/25/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/25/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Jason D. Williams

This wide-eyed, curly-haired Arkansas rocker is a hotshot piano man whose uninhibited playing will have you asking for more.

In terms of style, Williams owes a big debt to the irreverent and irascible Jerry Lee Lewis, whose madman antics at the baby grand were enshrined in last summer's film Great Balls of Fire. (Those were actually Jason's hands melting down the ivories onscreen in some of the movie's more vigorous numbers, though Lewis's playing was on the soundtrack.)

Williams, 31, a former Sleepy LaBeef sideman, began playing the piano when he was 7—first with his hands and then adding his elbows and feet—and with the kind of manic energy that comes through all over this charged-up record debut. So peripatetic is Williams when he plays and sings—his voice is a cross between a country croak and a rockabilly wail—that 10 mikes had to be placed around the piano in order to ensure even pick-up from song to song.

While he pounds and pummels the keys with all of the Killer's string-popping intensity, there's a sweetness about Williams's delivery, almost a silliness, that gives his pyrotechnics at the piano a joyful quality. Flaming through the red-hot rocking "I Refuse to Sing the Blues," Williams announces slyly, "Down in Arkansas, we call this gospel music."

Backed up by a bevy of ace studio musicians who give many of the cuts a pleasingly lush, big band sound, Williams rips through such R&B classics as Hank Ballard's "Tore Up" and Larry Williams's "Slow Down." Not one to shy away from mixing it up—Fats Waller, Vladimir Horowitz and Miles Davis are cited as influences—Williams has included a Dixieland-style take on "St. James Infirmary," and such country criers as "Where There's Smoke." The instrumental "Lynnsong," written by Williams and dedicated to his ex-wife, reveals a tamer, even sentimental side of this otherwise flamboyant showman.

Comparisons with Jerry Lee notwithstanding, this honky-tonk hurricane seems to have enough talent, energy and charisma to more than hold his own among today's keyboard pounders. (RCA)

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