I’ve always been a sucker for passionate piano-pounding performers (and for excessive alliteration, too, but that’s another story).
From Jelly Roll Morton to Pete Johnson to Errol Garner to Otis Spann to Leon Blue to Pinetop Perkins to Jerry Lee Lewis to Little Richard to Victor Wainwright — and beyond — keyboard wizards never fail to activate my pleasure molecules and stimulate my dancing neurons.
So it’s always exciting to find a new and exciting talent to add to my personal piano playlist, and recommend for yours.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable and powerful first effort. Veronica’s dynamic keyboard work is not for the faint of heart, with fiery vocals to match. It’s almost hard to tell what drives the music more: her raucous piano or her quicksilver vocals.
Lewis takes eight songs here, including six originals that you would swear were written back when boogie was king, and launches a set of muscular, rootsy music that jumps, swings, rocks and pulsates with thunderous authenticity. It’s tough, percussive, bluesy piano with vocals to match. It’s throwback music with its foot on the pedal and its eye on the future.
But here’s the thing: Veronica Lewis is 17 years old. What crossroads did she have to sit at and wait to learn to sound like this? To create music like this? Her left hand works the bass lines with devilish authority. Her right hand floats like a butterfly and stings like a fistful of bees. And she works in a trio with just drums and sax, which is more than enough – it’s hard to beat the way the raunchy sax shouts the chorus against the piano in Katie Webster’s “Whoo Whee Sweet Daddy.”
The only other cover on the album, the great Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” gets the Veronica treatment with expressive vocals powered by a giant handful of torchy blues keyboard.
The title track, “You Ain’t Unlucky,” opens the album with New Orleans rhythms and a vocal shout that makes you sit up and listen to her personal message of resiliency. “When I was writing the song,” Lewis told an interviewer, “I reflected on my own experiences and I wanted to share how I deal with tough things in my life.” If she deals with all of her experiences with a similar musical insight and prowess, I hope she shares them, as well.
“Fool Me Twice” injects throwback powerhouse piano between bittersweet lyrical verses. These injections pump straight-ahead, jumpin’ and jivin’, ’56 Chevy rock ‘n’ roll, with all of its primeval power, directly into the soul. How can we mere mortals sit still? “Put Your Wig On Mama” is a rocking old-school blues thang with swampy undertones and sweaty sax behind her sparkling right hand.
There’s more music here, of course, which I will leave for you to discover. My only complaint about this album is that there’s not enough of it. But I shouldn’t complain about having this much fine music to enjoy.
Lewis is astonishingly good at creating all of this music. Her piano style, lyrical sensibilities and vocal authority speak to a passion for the music and talent for its expression that mysteriously inhabit this young soul. It’s too easy to make comparisons to Jerry Lee, or any other rocking keyboard whiz, and not quite fair, either. Veronica Lewis owns her talent. Now you can share it, too.
These talents have not gone unrecognized. Among other things, Lewis was the 2020 Boston Music Awards’ Artist of the Year and was named 2020’s Best Young Artist by the New England Music Hall of Fame. She can expect a bunch more of that.
Did I mention that she is 17 years old?
Here’s a fine interview with Veronica at the Americana Highways website.
And her excellent musical companions need to be credited. Mike Walsh, Ben Rogers, and Chris Anzalone shared drumming duties. Don Davis and Joel Edinberg lit up the saxophone.
Here’s one of the songs from the album:
Here’s the tracklist, and a bonus photo from the album art: