Being known as the king or queen of something has its implications in the music biz. You can’t just be the best but the freshest, most innovative, a force of nature. Well, then you might ask where that leaves someone like Wanda Jackson, called the Queen of Rockabilly, a mostly forgotten genre of music. A contemporary of Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, Jackson proves her mettle on her new album, The Party Ain’t Over.
It is tempting to dismiss the record off the bat as outdated with its covers of standards like “Shakin’ All Over” and its indulgence in rockabilly, but the fear is misplaced. Wanda Jackson, undoubtedly with a heap of help from producer – and modern day music monarch – Jack White, creates a deep and enjoyable music experience. From pieces of pop perfection like “Rip It Up” and “Rum and Coca-Cola” to deeper, soulful cuts like “You Know That I’m No Good” with its whining trumpet and Jackson’s voice, which cuts and winks with an “I told you so” attitude.
Of course, that’s just what makes this offering as tempting as anything being made today. Jackson’s voice is a treat: original, raw, different, sultry, energetic and fun in turns. White brings out all the best sides of Jackson with his excellent house band (including himself shredding axe). From the surf-fuelled “Nervous Breakdown,” to the organ-savvy gospel of “Dust on the Bible,” White and Jackson work together like PB & J, bringing to mind the past collaborations of White and Mosshart, White and Benson, White and White, or, perhaps most fitting, White and Loretta Lynn, where he produced her Grammy-winning Van Lear Rose. Here Jackson and White stand to have another good awards season.
If there is a standout track on the album, it has to be cover of Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain” from her excellent recent album, Modern Times. Jackson says that White had wanted her to cover a Dylan song for the album, and when it came to choosing one, the choice was easy, Dylan suggested “Thunder.” With a few tweaks (Where Dylan sings about Alicia Keys, Jackson found a natural fit with “Jerry Lee”) and the great Third Man band backing herm Jackson makes the song her own. The original was rollicking and the cover blows the roof off. Jackson sounds jubilant and just raspy enough to do Dylan justice; the horns are wild, and Jack White gets frisky with his solo. Overall, the tune is raucous and a whole lot of fun.
So if you really want to step outside the box musically, sometimes that step has to be backwards, and for those of us that do, Wanda Jackson and Jack White give something to cheer about. The Party Ain’t Over lives up to its name and is a worthy addition to any music library.