If you listen to Wanda Jackson’s ’50s rockabilly and country recordings, you know she didn’t need Jack White. Cuts like “Let’s Have a Party” were shockers to mainstream decorum – especially when they came from a gravelly-voiced, sweet-looking, hard-rocking young woman.
Now, in 2011, White adds his production sense, label, and guitar, and proves the party certainly isn’t over. White did much the same for 70-year-old Loretta Lynn in 2004; together they made magic on Van Lear Rose – and took home a Grammy. Jackson didn’t have an inkling who White or the White Stripes were, but on their first meeting, she was won over. With White producing, they cut a vinyl single in ’09 that become a rockabilly collectible. White suggested the tunes and arrangements; a cover of Amy Winehouse’s sleazybut- proud anthem “You Know I’m No Good” (Jackson didn’t know of Winehouse, either) and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ 1965 shimmering rocker “Shakin’ All Over.”
Those tracks set the style for the album – a hard-hitting horn section, deep bass lines (sometimes even doubled), plenty of rowdy guitar, and Jackson’s still-gravelly vocals. Sure, she doesn’t sound like the young woman she once was. But to their credit, Jackson and White do not digitally scour and polish the vocals, and thus they still sound real, gutsy, and great.
On a couple tracks, such as “Dust on the Bible,” the production’s over the top. It almost sounds like Jackson’s singing a different song from the over-enthusiastic band. Back when, she would have likely played it simple and true. But on other tracks, like Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain,” everything comes together, tight and right.
Will Jackson win a Grammy? She should. But if she doesn’t, she’s still got one great party going on.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May. ’11 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.