Reinventing the Wheel
What are you gonna say about Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel? Everything they've recorded is inspired. It's true that for the last 12-15 years they've been making lots of live and tribute kinds of records, but even when they record a "new" one as Benson boasts on the back sleeve, they still sound like a rollicking, reeling, good-time swaggering Texas-style Western swing band. The lineup changes, and changes, and changes to be sure, but because of Benson's stubborn reliance on the form, the group keeps a very definite sound. This new set underscores that case in spades and all one has to do is listen to the cover of Mose Allison's great jump tune "Your Mind Is on Vacation." Allison, being a son of the Deep South himself (Mississippi) may never have imagined his tune this way, but it's easy to imagine him smiling and swinging along to it, or thinking up a smoking little piano solo, when he hears it. The same goes for Louis Jordan's "Saturday Night Fish Fry." There is one anomaly here, though, and it's the album's closer, a beautiful straight honky tonk version of Guy Clark's "The Cape." Benson pours real emotion into it while keeping Clark's phrasing nearly identical. There are also a couple of Tommy Duncan numbers here, and Fred Rose's stomper "The Devil Ain't Lazy," which could have been covered by Louis Jordan with a saxophone playing the steel solo, plus a couple of originals by Benson. It all adds up to a fine effort by Asleep at the Wheel. This band may be an institution, but they still have inspiration, chops, and hardcore swing in spades to dish out to listeners.