Wanda Jackson: The Party Ain’t Over

Wanda Jackson
The Party Ain’t Over
Third Man/Nonesuch
Rating: ★★½☆☆

If The Party Ain’t Over were just another new Wanda Jackson album, she might only be selling a few thousand copies and might be happy with that. The rockabilly queen turned Christian and Gospel singer has been out of the spotlight for decades except for appearances at rockabilly festivals and evangelical events, and that seems to have worked for her.

But Jack White, the renaissance man of rock ‘n’ roll, is a Jackson fan, and understandably felt that she was deserving of some long overdue exposure to Generations X and Y, so he set about assembling a band to back her as he produced her in his Nashville studio. The problem is that Jackson is now in her 70s, and White’s production and choice of material are pretty far off the mark in terms of who she is in 2011.

The Party Ain’t Over opens with a cover of Johnny Kidd’s classic “Shakin’ All Over,” and it works pretty well. The actual physical image of a septuagenarian getting “Quivers down my backbone” might be a little hard to deal with, but the song is still fun. The appropriate ‘50s rocker “Rip It Up” follows, but a cover of Harlan Howard’s “Busted” comes off like some kind of weird Dixieland waltz. The kitschy “Rum and Coca-Cola” is okay but doesn’t really fit in very well. But then, none of these songs fit very well with each other.

Perhaps the most ill-conceived idea of the entire album is the cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good,” with its references to skull t-shirts, sex and rug burns. This just doesn’t work at all. And while it’s supposed to be all in good fun, hearing Jackson sing “Graduation’s almost here my love” on the much-covered classic “Teach Me Tonight” is, well, way out of place, as is the song’s arrangement, which features steel and rock guitar with champagne-bubble keyboards and McGuire Sisters harmonies.

Tracks like the Bailes Brothers’ “Dust on the Bible” or Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodle (sic) #6,” where Jackson sings and yodels to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar, are far more fitting. Even Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain” works better than the other uptempo numbers. The horns are used too much throughout the album, and the guitars are usually far too rocky. The band, which includes members of My Morning Jacket and the Raconteurs, shouldn’t be expected to achieve a cohesive sound that could complement such disparate material, and it doesn’t.

We love you, Wanda, and Jack, we know you meant well. Available on Jack White’s first love, vinyl, as well as CD, the recording may do well as somewhat of a novelty, or because of White’s involvement, and hopefully that will be the case, as it’s always wonderful to see success go to those who have worked the hardest for the longest. But in the end, this album just doesn’t make it.