Four out of Five Stars
Wanda Jackson could easily rest on her laurels and in fact, she nearly did. At age 83, she announced her retirement from live performance. Nevertheless, determined as ever to share her sass and style, she managed to record another album, one that firmly consolidates the sound she’s shared for the past 64 years. Long known as the queen of rockabilly, and a rightful inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Gospel Hall of Fame, and, of course, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, it’s appropriate that after some 32 albums, she’s opted to go out with a big bang and an album aptly titled Encore.
That said, Encore actually sounds like a fresh start. It bridges both generations and genres. Three songs feature Joan Jett (the album was recorded for Jett’s Blackheart label), one finds her duetting with Angeleena Presley, and share co-writing credits with Lori McKenna, Will Hoge, Elle King, and David Ryan Harris. It’s a completely collaborative affair, but it’s Jackson’s blistery vocals and undiminished attitude that still take center stage.
More importantly, it’s a fine follow-up to a string of revival releases that have found Jackson rightfully reclaiming her reputation as one of the most confident and assured singers to ever transcend the rock and country divide. Well in keeping with the hits she made famous—“Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad,” “Mean, Mean Man,” “Fujiyama Mama” and “Let’s Have A Party”—this current crop of songs finds her exuding the same swagger and bravado that defined her sound early on. Indeed, hearing a sizzling rocker like “Big Baby,” the bluesy shuffle “You Drive Me Wild,” the staunch yet solid “Good Girl Down,” or the proverbial tears-in-the beer ballads “It Keeps Right On Hurtin’” and “That’s What Love Is” easily confirms the fact that Jackson’s music is not only timeless but also transcends any simple characterization. So too, despite the fact that she’s assembled an able supporting cast, it’s Jackson that remains at the fore. She sets the standard, and even in her seventh decade of making music, that confidence and control remain readily apparent.
If there’s one complaint at all, it falls to the short setlist. Only eight songs long, Encore builds momentum and then leaves the listener wanting for more. One can only hope that there’s a further encore for this Encore.