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Willie and the Wheel

by: Willie Nelson and Asleep At The Wheel

Album Artwork

( Bismeax Records)

The spirits of Bob Wills and all of the rest of the original Texas and western swing scene musicians from the 1930s on are alive and well in this brand new album by Willie Nelson and Asleep At The Wheel (AATW). Nelson is a Texas native who has always been into western swing and Ray Benson and AATW have been a big part of keeping the genre going over the years. Here they play together in a fun new album that was a long time in the making.

 The history behind this project is an interesting one, as Ray Benson tells the story in the liner notes. Nelson was supposed to do a western swing album over 30 years ago with Atlantic Records' legendary exec Jerry Wexler pushing the project but it never happened, for whatever reason. Move ahead to a couple of years ago when Wexler knows he is bad sick and not long for this world and he begins to give away his record collection to various artists and family and friends.

 Wexler ends up giving Benson some vinyl western swing records and when Benson finally gets around to sitting down and listening to those old sides he notices that a few of the songs listed on the album cover have the initials "WN" written in beside them. Curious about it, Benson calls Wexler and asks about the initials and the answer he gets is that the cuts with the "WN" beside them are songs Wexler picked out for Nelson to sing on the western swing album that never happened years earlier. That sparks a brainstorm in Benson and he gets a hold of Willie and they get together to make this new album just as Wexler is dying and the end result is a wonderful and swinging album with Wexler listed as “Executive Producer.”

 The project not only features Nelson and AATW but also a full horn section and guest musicians such as Elizabeth McQueen who provides some wonderful harmony and lead vocals. On the romping instrumental called “South” AATW’s Jason Roberts serves up some sweet twin fiddles that is followed by band mate Eddie Rivers on steel guitar and guests Paul Shaffer on piano and Vince Gill on guitar.

 The ‘Willie’ songs are a blast with the highlights including “Hesitation Blues,” “Won’t You Ride In My Little Red Wagon,” “Corrina, Corrina” and “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None O’ This Jellyroll.” All of the songs are uptempo in the western swing mode with the only slow one being a funky and bluesy duet between Nelson and McQueen on “I’m Sittin’ On Top Of The World.” Fortunately, there isn’t a clunker on this album. But, it helps that the love for western swing is there with all involved which keeps it from being gimmicky and contrived. This is swinging fun from top to bottom and makes for a go-to party record should western swing fit the scene.

-Derek Halsey

 

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