On the cover of her debut album You Ain’t Unlucky, Veronica Lewis wears a Stray Cats t-shirt. It’s an apt choice. Like that 1980s band that looked back a few decades for inspiration, Lewis embraces an ethos rooted in retro chic. But while the Stray Cats experimented with rockabilly and garage rock, 17-year-old Lewis traffics in blues and boogie. She’s a virtuoso, and her record is custom-made for road trips, sock hops, juke joints, and backyard picnics.
Lewis is partial to energetic, uptempo numbers and rejects excess. Clocking in at 33 minutes, You Ain’t Unlucky boasts just eight tracks with nary a slow jam. She handles vocal duties throughout except for the instrumental “Ode to Jerry Lee”, and plays piano on all eight. Think Martha Davis, Fats Domino, and Jerry Lee Lewis, the latter namechecked on the aforementioned “Ode”. Backed by drums and saxophone, Lewis’ barrelhouse keys are high in the mix throughout, clearly intended to be the star of the show. She’s a very good songwriter and singer, but she’s a fantastic, confident, and highly accomplished pianist.
Lewis is straight out of New Hampshire and a couple of years away from the legal drinking age, but she’s already a regional favorite. If the spirited performances on You Ain’t Unlucky are any indication, national stardom might be on her horizon. Standout tracks on the record include “Put Your Wig On, Mama”, a funny, rollicking entry in the long tradition of songs about eschewing chores in favor of fun. The title track’s also a good time, all uplift and affirmation lyrically, although the verses are mostly there to take listeners from one impressive piano solo to the next.
Given the numerous iconic versions of the song, covering “Is You Is My Baby” is an audacious move. While Lewis is no Dinah Washington or Louis Jordan, she puts a compelling twist on the familiar lyrics, transposing the story into a third-person narrative from a woman’s perspective. It’s the album’s most mature moment, and its midtempo pace (amid seven rockers!) insists we take the narrator’s pleas seriously.
I’m not sure there’s a knock on You Ain’t Unlucky, although I will say that the lyrics on the originals lean a bit on aphorisms (“one bad apple don’t spoil the bunch” and “fool me once shame on you”). Still, Lewis often manages to add a punchline to familiar phrasings, like on the title track when she sings, “Think it’s bad every cherry has a pit, honey, inside every pit is a whole other tree.” Also, I suspect that further lyrical maturity will come as Lewis ages into, well, adulthood.
Veronica Lewis is just starting to make a name for herself in the blues, roots, and Americana communities. You can’t listen to her debut without smiling, nodding, or tapping a toe, and of course, how can you not root for a wunderkind? You Ain’t Unlucky brings to mind revivalists as varied as Dr. John and the late great Candye Kane. It’s the summer record you didn’t know you needed, sure to drag you out of any lingering pandemic funk.