18 January 2011

Review: Wanda Jackson 'The Party Ain't Over'

The Party Ain't Over
[Third Man/Nonesuch]

Imagine this. You're a girl. You want to be a singer. You set out playing country music, but the exciting new rockabilly sound is your calling. Despite being told "Girls Don't Sell Records!", you become the first woman to record a rock n' roll song - Let's Have A Party, in 1958 - launching a remarkable career that continues to this day. In fact you're known globally as "The Queen Of Rockabilly" & "The First Lady Of Rock n' Roll".

You're also forever referred to as "Elvis Presley's girlfriend".

Such is the story of Wanda Jackson. Sort of.

The Party Ain't Over is her new album & despite her prominence in the rock n' roll world, it's another bloke who's getting the most attention: producer Jack White of The White Stripes.

Sure, The Party Ain't Over contains some fine exampls of rock n' roll, particularly opener Shakin' All Over, an absolute stormer that benefits from an inspired treatment from White. Other highlighs include the original rocker Rip It Up & a reading of Bob Dylan's recent Thunder On The Mountain.

Mostly though, the album struggles to really fire, as the band clatters through a collection of covers, with no new material from Jackson. A bizarre punk-calypso take on Rum & Coca Cola joins a jarring version of Amy Winehouse's You Know That I'm No Good as probably the weirdest of a frankly strange bunch.

While Jackson gained her fame from her "sweet but nasty" voice & self-assured, ground-breaking early fashion style, there can be no doubt the raw vocal power of her youth has dimmed. The greater shame is that the "outlaw attitude" which was once such a huge part of her charm is also sadly lacking. OK, so she's a 73yr old born-again Christian, so I guess I can cut her some slack, & sure, this is the real deal, grit on display & all of that - but to these ears it's just a little tired & that's not entirely Jackson's fault.

Despite my harsh criticism of Jackson's ailing voice, White really should shoulder some responsibility here. His 2004 album with Loretta Lynn was inspired & the recent Mavis Staples-Jeff Tweedy collaboration saw a gem of a record as a result.

Here we lose sight of Jackson amongst a grab-bag of musical styles, grandiose arrangements & sheer over-playing by a band which includes White's wife Karen Elson alongside old buddies - though White's searing guitar solos are admittedly impressive.

If this collaboration encourages people to go & pick up Jackson's first records, that's a good thing, because her early material is hair-raisingly exciting. Sadly, The Party Ain't Over is closer to curlers & blue-rinses.

IN A NUTSHELL: Rockabilly so badass it'll mow your lawns without even asking first...
NYNTEE'S RATING: FIVE out of TEN (and THREE of those are for the scorching opening track!)

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