After his impressive turn in producing Lorreta Lynn's Van Lear Rose, people have been waiting for Jack White to work his production magic on another Nashville legend. Since that record, White has assembled an amazing creative hub in Nashville with Third Man Records. It is a label, record store, recording studio, photography studio, and film studio. He can imagine, create, produce, and manufacture all under one roof. With Third Man's help, White is back behind the boards to bring us The Party Ain't Over by Wanda Jackson.
Jackson has often been called the Queen of Rockabilly since her career started at the same time as Elvis and was often seen as a female foil to the King. There is quite a bit of rockabilly sounds on this new album with Shakin All Over, Rip It Up, and Nervous Breakdown leading the way.
However, White should be lauded for not limiting this project to rockabilly. For a generation of young folk who see White as a sage or a pied piper, they will not be let down by his consistent and uncompromising artistry. White knows that Wanda Jackson was more than a rockabilly girl - she was an incredible southern stylist.
For those that forget, rockabilly was just another name for hillbilly music, a name that labels described mainly white music of that era that was not pop and made almost exclusively made by southern musicians. In understanding this history, one understands that Wanda Jackson was of an era that saw hillbilly ultimately become country music. There were male artists that made this transition like Conway Twitty, but Jackson was the most famous among the women.
Even in her 70s, Jackson's essence as a performer and vocalist remains strong here. She has a flirty innocence that harkens to her golden era and brings a lost sense of fun and playfulness to today's music that is oftentimes overrun with dour and grim seriousness.
The island vibe or Rum And Coca-Cola is campy fun while Teach Me Tonight shows how innocent even the loss of innocence seemed back then. Juxtaposing those songs with Amy Winehouse's You Know I'm No Good brings a unique connection to two female performers from very different eras.
Jackson and White also have a ball covering Harlan Howard's classic song Busted, get bluesy on Like A Baby, go back to church on Dust On The Bible, and strip it all down bare for Blue Yodel #6. They "bring it all back home" in a rockabilly sense by breathing new life in Bob Dylan's Thunder On The Mountain which had largely been forgotten amongst his vast catalog of songs. Dylan himself was rumored to have suggested it. It stands at the backbone of this fine record.
White has done something important with this record. Not only has he allowed an often forgotten artist another chance to shine, he has also shown the work ethic and versatility of southern musicians from Jackson's time. They had to keep moving artistically to survive. They didn't usually write songs, so they had to adopt styles of the times and do them all well.
White does a great service to Jackson and to his ever-increasing audience by creating The Party Ain't Over. The title sounds like a statement of purpose. For Jackson, it is clear that she can still bring her party to the people. For White, we can all only hope this means that his ambition will continue to push him to produce projects as fine as this.
- Jim Markel