Picks and Pans Review: Hot Damn!
updated 01/12/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 01/12/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST
Once a promising member of the same Sun Records stable in Memphis that gave us Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Lee Riley never achieved even a glimmer of the stardom that would envelop the King and the Killer. But the Arkansas musician—now 64, he was rescued from four decades of obscurity by über-fan Bob Dylan in 1992—has crafted something his celebrated brethren never attempted: an unflinching, unsentimental treatment of aging and, its partner in time, death. Playing mournful harmonica over a slow blues riff, Riley sings "Time Ain't on My Side" (a nod to a 1964 hit by the Rolling Stones) with the slight tremolo of the old black bluesmen he listened to growing up on a Depressionera cotton plantation: "Now this old face is wrinkled and there's silver in my hair/And I'm just one more step away from that old rockin' chair." For Riley, who leavens the mood with uptempo rockabilly workouts, succor from death's finality is found in life's beauty. And he offers it in abundance in his simple, deeply felt blues. (Capricorn)