For those unfamiliar with Asleep At The Wheel [to be referred to as AATW] , this band are the keepers of the flame of Western Swing, that appealing blend of big band jazz and country music, made popular by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys ,from the mid-1930’s onwards.
Astonishingly, AATW , led by singer,guitarist and songwriter Ray Benson, have been in existence continuously since 1969 and are still going strong 48 years later.
What we have here is a very generous 2 CD set from Retro World/Floating World Records which contains four albums from the late 1980’s /early 1990’s ,namely “Ten”; “Western Standard Time”; “Keepin’Me Up Nights” and ,finally, “Greatest Hits:Live and Kickin’”from 1992.
Notwithstanding the dates of their recording, across these four excellent albums AATW stick to their ethos of faithfully playing in a number of styles of American roots music that reach back beyond the birth of rock and roll – Western Swing, jump jazz, honky tonk and even Cajun.
AATW mix classic songs with original compositions ,mainly written by founder Ray Benson.
The playing on all four albums is second to none, and they are all packed with rollicking good-time music.
If I had to single one album out it would be “Western Standard Time” ,which ,as its name suggests, is a tribute to the classic songs of Western Swing. The album opens with a glorious big band arrangement of the familiar “Chattanooga Choo Choo” ,on which Ray Benson shares lead vocals with Willie Nelson to great effect. This collaboration was a precursor to the superb “Willie And The Wheel” album ,which was released in 2009 [and which is highly recommended].
The choice of songs on “Western Standard Time” really appeals to me. In particular , AATW do a great version of Charley Ryan’s classic car song “Hot Rod Lincoln” ,which was popularised by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Also, they pay their respects to Bob Wills with a cracking version of his signature song “San Antonio Rose”, which is ,perhaps,the definitive Western Swing number.
Particularly poignant for me is the version of “That’s What I Like About The South” ,which was a favourite of my grandfather ,which he had on 78 rpm record and which he often played for me. The song was recorded in 1947 by band leader Phil Harris who, incidentally , later found fame as the voice of Baloo in “The Jungle Book” and of Thomas O’Malley in “The Aristocats”.
Close behind “Western Standard Time”, comes “Live And Kickin’” ,which abundantly lives up to its title with classics such as “Route 66” , “Jambalaya” and ,a personal favourite of mine, “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie”.
Overall, this is release comes highly recommended ,especially as it gives you four hugely enjoyable albums for the price of one. As someone once said “Western Swing ain’t dead ,it’s just Asleep At The Wheel”.
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