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Wanda Jackson - The Party Ain’t Over

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Artist: Wanda Jackson

Album: The Party Ain’t Over

Label: Nonesuch

Review date: Jan. 25, 2011

Say what you will about Jack White, but the guy can be quite generous. Whether it’s Conan O’Brien, Loretta Lynn, or in the case of The Party Ain’t Over, rockabilly matriarch Wanda Jackson, White is more than willing to lend a hand to a friend.

At 73 years old, Wanda Jackson should have plenty of them. A veteran of the music business for nearly 60 years, her hits such as “Let’s Have a Party” and “Riot in Cell Block #9” positioned Jackson as one of the only female stars in rockabilly, and her roadhouse helium-holler created a blueprint for any woman (or man for that matter) considering singing genuine rock ‘n’ roll. You can hear traces of it in everyone from Neko Case to Coco Hames of the Ettes and Parting Gifts. For whatever reason, though, Jackson doesn’t quite command the immediate name recognition of some of her country and R&B contemporaries. Jack White sets out to correct this oversight with The Party Ain’t Over.

While collaborations between an aging legend and a younger, hipper musician are always interesting in theory, they’re also preceded by a certain degree of healthy skepticism: Will the young feller do right by the elder statesperson or will it be a cynical attempt to bag a Grammy? The Party Ain’t Over, Jackson’s first album since her 2006 tribute to Elvis Presley (I Remember Elvis) may very well win a Grammy, but it’s also an undeniably fun little romp — neither rigidly traditional nor inappropriately au courant in its execution.

Brassy R&B and hot country form the foundation of Party‘s sound, as the Third Man team give the proceeding a buoyant big-band feel. Like a roots-music Wrecking Crew, they punctuate “I’m Busted” with blasts of drunken horns but give Jackson the space she needs to really dig into the songs insouciant attitude toward hard times. A real mean take on Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain” playfully flips the script and sends Jackson not into Hells Kitchen looking for Alicia Keys, but down to Ferriday, Louisiana in search of Jerry Lee Lewis. There are even occasional genre curveballs, too, such as the delightful calypso-driven “Rum and Coca-Cola.”

Jackson’s vocals, ever so slightly worn with age, are strong throughout, her feisty, pipsqueak belt sounding as ready to emcee a barroom brawl today as it did in 1956. Ever the pro, Jackson never seems uncomfortable with the material, whether it’s the country standard “Dust on the Bible” or Amy Winehouse’s “You Know That I’m No Good,” the albums de facto centerpiece. The once-ubiquitous Winehouse version is a slinky, sleazy dose of contemporary R&B with a hip London sheen. The Jackson-White reboot casts the song as a swampy, country vamp, and while it isn’t a horrible idea in theory, it does feel contrived and a bit of an unnecessary pander.

Even with that misstep in mind, though, it’s pretty tough not to root for Wanda Jackson and The Party Ain’t Over.

By Nate Knaebel

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