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TBTS Reviews: Wanda Jackson — The Party Ain’t Over

March 2, 2011

Wanda Jackson - The Party Ain't OverLast year, I played bass in a cover band for one gig. It was a favor for a friend, a drummer who needed to assemble a band of capable players in a hurry. Much of the material wasn’t my bag, but the gig was fun (as were the marathon practice sessions leading up to it.)

The lead guitarist was a talented kid named Tony. Despite being just over half my age, Tony had a near encyclopedic knowledge of old rock n’ roll. It was at his behest that we worked up covers of easy, old-school tunes such the Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road” and “Shakin’ All Over,” originally by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. Our version of “Shakin’ All Over” was abbreviated, just a simple run through verse-chorus-verse-chorus, but it was a lot of fun to play. It’s an up-tempo jam and the main riff really drives the song. The lyrics are fairly typical of early-60’s rock:

When you move in right up close to me
That’s when I get the shakes all over me

Quivers down my backbone
I got the shakes in the knee bones
Shivers down my thigh bones
Like I’m shakin’ all over

The song is so catchy and easy to play, it’s been covered by everyone from Led Zeppelin to Iggy Pop to The Who to MC5. The latest release to feature this song is The Party Ain’t Over by Wanda Jackson. Jackson is a 73-year-old singer who was once dubbed the Queen of Rockabilly in the 50’s and 60’s. She shifted focus to gospel and country songs in the late-60’s and on into the 70’s. Since 1980, she has performed at rockabilly festivals and released albums of material that has garnered praise in such circles. In 2009, she was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame (it was her second nomination.)

I had never heard of her until January of 2011.

I heard a song on the radio that had a sexy, James Bond vibe. A throwback R&B number with lots of horns, and this raspy, tough-old-broad voice high in the mix. I recognized one particular horn part as the theme from the British TV drama, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, which the wife and I thoroughly enjoy. I pulled out my trusty iPhone and Shazammed that shit. It was Wanda Jackson’s cover of “You Know I’m No Good” (which I later found out is originally by Amy Winehouse.) My interest was piqued. A few days later I heard Jackson’s cover of “Shakin’ All Over” and I vowed to buy the record.

Produced by none other than Jack White, The Party Ain’t Over is a note-perfect example of Jackson’s vocal abilities. She tears through fast songs like “Nervous Breakdown” and the “Rockin’ Robin”-esque “Rip It Up” with an ease and a confidence that shows she’s been doing this for a while. Jackson is clearly in her element on these old tunes. Her version of “Shakin’ All Over” is a foot-tapper to beat all foot-tappers. The songs on the album run the gamut from these breathless rockers to gospel fare like “Dust On the Bible” to ersatz reggae like “Rum and Coca Cola.” Almost any other artist and this dichotomy would make the whole record seem disjointed and silly, but it works here.

White’s production has been derided for being “a little too slick.” Another reviewer coined the phrase “horn porn.” While I agree that there is a slight overuse of the horn section on many of the songs, and I’ve been known to criticize White’s jackassery in the past, I think the modern production techniques are just what Wanda Jackson needs to bring her into the current century and ensure that she gets her due from a new generation of listeners.

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