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Willie Nelson and Asleep At The Wheel
Willie And The Wheel
Bismeaux Records
www.willieandthewheel.com


Jerry Wexler knows in his soul what is good. In fact, I would venture to guess that most of Wexler's ideas are solid gold. Not only that, but with a reputation and pedigree like Wexler's, one can choose to work with pretty much whomever they choose. So for his latest brilliant idea he teamed up with Asleep At The Wheel and Willie Nelson and cut a record full of classic Western Swing tunes… sound tasty? It is.

Waylon Jennings once preached that Texas was the home of Willie Nelson and that he'd be the first to tell you that Bob Wills is still the king. Waylon was completely correct, and here, finally, is the proof of that admission. Willie sings his heart out on this album, taking the music of his home territory and adding his own vibrant life to it. Ray Benson and Co. don't take time to slouch, either. Asleep At The Wheel is most definitely still at their peak, having been there for quite some time, playing incredibly well and imbuing the songs with their own swagger, yet always being careful to retain the song's own personality. For an example check out the swinging version of Bob Wills' "Sweet Jennie Lee" that takes the classic song, smoothes it out just a touch and then launches it into a Willie-led hootenanny of gigantic proportions. The song has all of the classic elements; crisp swinging drums, a jumpy bass line, brilliant fiddle solos, and epic pedal steel accents. There are songs that cross back over to the big band swing, easing on down the Western side, and those tracks make this album that much better. Drop in the occasional clarinet, as on "I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None O' This Jellyroll", and you've got an instant smile. Another Wills' classic, "Right Or Wrong" is wonderfully performed, with all the panache and grace that the Texas Playboys gave the song, but with Willie's trademark vocals in place of Tommy Duncan's. The version of "Bring It On Down To My House" has all the classic elements of a great swing song; it jumps, jives, and wails all at once. The fiddle work on "Shame On You" could have sprung directly from the strings of Bob Wills' own fiddle, it's just that tasty, while the groovy, low-slung guitar work on "Shame" is utterly brilliant as Benson plays and talks his way to greatness.

Take a listen to Willie And The Wheel. If you love Willie, you'll find a lot to love. If you love Asleep At The Wheel, you'll find even more to love. But if you really don't know what you're missing in the Western Swing arena, then this is a great introduction. The sound is accessible and tight, friendly and joyful. Bob Wills is still the king, but Willie And The Wheel brings it all into the 21st century with a keen edge that would make the king proud.

-Embo Blake

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