x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Wanda Jackson: The Party Ain't Over

The rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson has released her latest Jack White-produced album at the age of 73.

(Third Man / Nonesuch)

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That Jack White – doesn't his life look fun? He's been successful with the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, and he's married to the model Karen Elson.

More than that, White's skills as a guitarist and producer have opened doors to other, no less agreeable worlds. Recording a Bond film theme with Alicia Keys? Check. Appearing in the documentary It Might Get Loud alongside Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and U2's The Edge? Check. Moreover, when the country singer Loretta Lynn made Van Lear Rose, her acclaimed 2004 comeback album, White was at the controls.

This time around, he has produced a record by another septuagenarian legend, namely Oklahoma's "First Lady of Rockabilly", Wanda Jackson, 73. The album's title clearly references Let's Have a Party, the song that Jackson recorded aged 19 after meeting Elvis Presley, soon to be her boyfriend, on a package tour of the American Deep South in 1955.

With a trademark growl in her voice – and a taste for off-the-shoulder dresses that were deemed scandalous at the time – Jackson was a feral feline, channelling girl power decades before Lady Gaga. White likes his music gnarly and Jackson's credentials are impeccable. You can see why this project appealed to him.

Pleasingly, there's nothing complicated or remotely studied about The Party Ain't Over. Those involved have simply chosen some rockabilly and country classics to cover, assembled a crack band with a horn section, and let the good times roll. Songs such as Johnny Kidd & the Pirates' Shakin' All Over and Little Richard's Rip It Up are tricky to make fresh, but with Jackson clearly relishing White's attention to period detail, all those present manage to deliver while partying like it's 1959.

There is a take on Amy Winehouse's You Know That I'm No Good, it's true, but it doesn't quite work. A 1950s star covering a song by a contemporary star influenced by the 1950s seems a bit like a dog chasing its own tail.

Better by far is Jackson's version of Bob Dylan's Thunder on the Mountain, which is ushered in with maximum drama.

Elsewhere, the album mixes playful vocals with a gorgeous muted trumpet and echo-drenched White guitars, while Harlan Howard's waltz-time hard-luck tale Busted showcases Jackson's way with story songs. Nervous Breakdown confirms that her trademark growl is intact, if somewhat careworn.

One unfavourable review of this record jibed: "Wanda, I think the party is over," but to these ears, that's way off the mark. Many songs here pack considerably more oomph than one might reasonably expect of a woman in the sixth decade of her career, and I, for one, hope this is not Jackson's last hurrah.

White and co have hatched a raw and exquisitely played backdrop that doesn't handle Jackson with kid gloves, and it places a woman whose career has sometimes been criminally overlooked back in the spotlight. One can only imagine what this record means to her.