This week, Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson, who achieved her first taste of fame in 1960 with an Elvis track “Let’s Have a Party,” released her latest album: The Party Ain’t Over. Jackson has kept the party rockin’ with a little help from her new friend, Jack White.
White released The Party Ain’t Over on his Third Man Records label, produced the album, and plays guitar on the majority of the tracks. White also provided the studio space and band, even getting supermodel wife Karen Elson involved to sing back-up vocals.
The new album from this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame superstar rings with all the sweetness of a retro effort, with soft touches of modern rock mayhem throughout.
One of my favorite tracks, “Teach Me Tonight,” comes off as almost ironic. Who can teach this (74 year old) hellcat new tricks? Fortunately for Ms. Jackson, new licks from Mr. White are enough new tricks for listeners thirsting for something that sounds fresh. And even that’s just icing on the cake.
Jackson’s got a voice that claws into each track with an exciting mix of bubblegum cheekiness, spitting on-the-edge roughness, and angelic purity. I wouldn’t want to see Wanda working to reinvent herself when she’s already done more than most can do. The woman stretches across vocal styles and genres with ease, making a sonic splash in rockabilly, country, and gospel, both historically and on her latest album alone.
Still, White isn’t the kind of producer that would let a legend lie. The experimentation on the album is subtle, but it’s there.
The most stand-out experiments are the vocal effects on “Shakin’ All Over,” sending Wanda’s voice into a kind of watery echo that makes you feel the shivers, and the distortion-heavy “Nervous Breakdown.” That track recalls The Cramps’ punk take on rockabilly, although the exaggerated and hilarious vocal performance of now-deceased lead singer Lux Interior is absent from the straight-rockin’ Wanda’s sound.
Another modern surprise on the album is Jackson’s cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” When White first approached her with the song, Jackson was taken aback, the vintage rocker told Conan on Tuesday night’s show. “I knew [Winehouse] was infamous for her…lifestyle…I’m kinda infamous myself,” Jackson said. Known for dating Elvis while they toured together in their youth, a lovely bit of gossip Conan harped on, the Queen has certainly had her bit of a bad reputation. Explaining his song choice, White told Conan: “Amy’s the bad girl of today, and Wanda was the first…Her attitude is still as applicable to something like that.”
Wanda Jackson and Elvis Presley? They must have been like a real-life Cry Baby couple. Only I can’t imagine Jackson playing the good girl too well. She rips through “You Know I’m No Good” like a snarling chipmunk, and you can’t help but believe her assertion that she’s baaaaad to the bone.
The album finishes with a great, stripped-down acoustic track: “Blue Yodel #6.” It’s just Wanda and Jack on this song, and the lady yodels through with a beautiful sadness, making you long for a good yodel like you never thought you would.
Wanda Jackson is the latest in a long line of musicians Jack White has brought into the spotlight. White started this tradition with his 2001 compilation of lesser-known Detroit garage bands called Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit. Three years later, he produced country sensation Loretta Lynn’s comeback album, Van Lear Rose, and sang a duet with her on the record.
Aside from producing comeback no-longer-kids, White has also taken it upon himself to cover infamous bluesman Son House (one of his favorite musicians) and Dolly Parton tunes at White Stripes concerts in an attempt to bring old music (or, god forbid, country music) to new rock and roll fans. In a 2004 interview with The Guardian, White said:
“At times, we [the White Stripes] almost ignore our own music. If we have the stage, we’ve gotta play Son House’s music, because there’s nobody to keep it alive…I’m tired of it being my job to bring it back.”
But Jack has spread the responsibility out now, no longer relying on his own projects to echo the efforts of musicians past. Now, he’s brought them forward on their own, using his fame and record label to draw new fans to acts that inspired him.
White truly believes in this music — timeless songs that stretch with inner weight — and longs to be a part of its tradition. One look at the ear-to-ear grin White sports while singing with Mick Jagger in Martin Scorsese’s Shine A Light exposes Jack as a man who is living out his rock and roll fantasies. The man even got to play with the drool-worthy Jimmy Paige in It Might Get Loud! And the adoring gleam in his eye whenever he looks at Loretta Lynn, one of his idols, in their “Portland Oregon” video melts my heart from a mile away. Jack White is in love with these people. But more importantly, he’s in love with the roots of rock and roll.
Ultimately, both White and his various projects benefit from the return to their music. Hopefully White’s dedicated fans will take Wanda Jackson to heart. Wanda thanks Jack in the liner notes on The Party Ain’t Over, writing that “working with Jack has been a blast, and he has pushed me into the 21st century.”
Check out this century’s Wanda Jackson in the video below as she covers Bob Dylan’s “Thunder On the Mountain” with her fan and partner, Jack White.Tags: Amy Winehouse, Blue Yodel #6, Bob Dylan, Conan, Cry Baby, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Jack White, Karen Elson, Let's Have a Party, Loretta Lynn, Lux Interior, martin scorsese, Mick Jagger, Nervous Breakdown, Portland Oregon, Queen of Rockabilly, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rolling Stones, Shakin' All Over, Shine A Light, Son House, Teach Me Tonight, The Cramps, The Guardian, The Party Ain't Over, Third Man Records, Thunder On the Mountain, Van Lear Rose, Wanda Jackson, White Stripes, You Know I'm No Good