Wanda Jackson – The Party Ain’t Over (Music Review)

The Party Ain't Over cover

Wanda Jackson - The Party Ain't Over

When Jack White engineered a comeback album for Loretta Lynn, the result was stunning. Van Lear Rose’s collection of both covers and originals introduced Lynn to a new generation, and presented her as a still-talented and interesting woman. Now White is trying again with Wanda Jackson’s The Party Ain’t Over, but with less success.

As one of the first rockabilly singers, and still one of the few notable female ones, Jackson deserves this recognition as much as Lynn. However, she hasn’t aged quite as well. In some ways, a direct comparison to Van Lear Rose is unfair, since Jackson’s harder style favors youth, and original songs were never as central to her persona. However, it’s still the natural approach. Either way, this collection of competently-performed covers can’t avoid being disappointing.

She still has a distinctive growl on songs such as the “Shakin’ All Over” and “Nervous Breakdown”, but little range or energy. White tries to compensate with a band of talented young rock musicians, but there is only so much they can do. This is supposed to be Jackson’s album, and even though the music occasionally threatens to drown her out, she stays at the center. They never aim to be more than a good cover band.

Of the more rocking songs, “Thunder On The Mountain” is by far the best. This five-year-old Dylan song has gone almost uncovered to date, and it takes some serious instrumental scaling up and lyrical paring down to bring it in line with Jackson’s style. It’s the one song here that feels transformed into something new, and while it still would have benefitted from a different vocalist, it realizes the vision that White must have had when he decided to record albums with his influences.

Jackson is at her best with slower, sultrier songs, such as “Teach Me Tonight” and a surprising performance of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good”. She brings a world-weary perspective and experienced sultriness to these works, turning her age to a strength.

The main problem with The Party Ain’t Over may be that it sets its aims too low. It rarely tries to do more than pay tribute to classic songs, and that leaves no room for a tribute to Jackson. Without exception, these songs can easily be judged to be worse than the originals, and worse than Jackson could have done in her prime. Her personality barely comes through, with “Dust On The Bible” being the only choice that sounds like it came from Jackson’s heart. Winehouse’s “little carpet burns”, the gimmicky “Rum And Coca-Cola”, and the overreaching energy just don’t feel right for Jackson today. White succeeded with Lynn’s Van Lear Rose by making it into an honest snapshot of its subject, but this new work buries Jackson under all the glitz and fancy production. It’s hard to tell whether this was a miscalculation or the only thing that would work for her, but either way, it doesn’t do justice to this rock-n-roll icon.

Grade: C

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  1. December 20th, 2012

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