Album Review: Wanda Jackson — Unfinished Business
In 2011, The First Lady of Rockabilly declared “The Party Ain’t Over” with her rollicking, Jack White-produced album of the same name. A year later Wanda Jackson returns to take care of some unfinished business on a sassy, brassy album, produced by Justin Townes Earle, that showcases Jackson’s growling, inspired versions of rock, blues, folk, and country songs.
Delivering straight ahead rock and roll, fueled by Kenny Vaughan’s blistering guitar, Jackson tears the house down with a scorching version of the Sonny Thompson blues standard, “Tore Down.” Vaughan’s sizzling solo is one of the highlights of the album. On “Two Hands,” a joyous and rambunctious gospel song, written by the late Townes Van Zandt, Jackson’s voice dances along with Skylar Wilson’s barrelhouse honky tonk piano and the beatific background chorus of Amanda Shires, Larissa Maestro, Tristen, and Hailey Collier. “What Do You Do When You Get Lonesome” is country shuffle at its best, guided by Mike Bub’s ingenious plucking of the upright bass and Paul Niehaus’ skittering and glimmering pedal steel. If pop maven Lesley Gore’s poor, pitiful me (“It’s My Party,” “Judy’s Turn to Cry”) had had Jackson’s ballsy attitude in “Pushover,” Gore’s boyfriend would never have had a chance to cheat on her. Jackson doesn’t let herself get taken, holding out for “a love that’s for real, not an imitation” in this pop-inflected cover of the soul classic that Etta James made famous; with that energetic rockabilly guitar driving it, Jackson’s version rocks steadier than James’.
Some songs don’t work as well as others. Jackson’s cover of Bobby and Shirley Jean Womack’s standard, “It’s All Over Now,” lacks the energy of The Valentinos’ (produced by Sam Cooke and led by Womack himself) version, and her take on “Old Weakness (Coming on Strong)” can’t match those by Patty Loveless and Tanya Tucker.
The highlight of the album is Jackson’s take on “California Stars.” The haunting pedal steel guitar, whose twinkling licks mirror the sparkling of the stars, backed by the angelic voices of the background singers transports us out into those starry skies into which Jackson gazes in the song.
Jackson’s paved the way for so many other women in rockabilly, and it’s good to have her soulful, still strong voice back taking care of business.
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