Asleep At The Wheel. Still The King. Proper Records

Celebrating The Music of Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys runs the banner under the album title and aside from that there’s precious little to say about this fabulous album; if you’re a fan of Asleep At The Wheel or Western Swing then you’ve probably already bagged this one. However there are folk out there who might not be so enamoured of the genre and who might be persuaded to dip a toe in the water, if so then this is as fine a place to start as any.

Western swing was a jazzy big band country pop phenomenon in the late thirties and forties, fiddle and pedal steel taking the place of sax solos and Bob Wills And His Texan Playboys were the kings of Western Swing. Asleep At The Wheel, led by the irrepressible Ray Benson appeared from the Austin, Texas melting pot of the early seventies, swinging with a vengeance and have been doing so ever since. Still The King is in fact their third tribute to Wills and pretty much follows the same formula, a roster of well-known country artists backed by Benson and the band. With several of the songs featured on all three albums (along with a few of the guest artists) one might wonder why Benson continues to record these. Well, Still The King features some of the younger country musicians who have come to prominence over the past decade with Old crow Medicine Show, The Avett Brothers and Pokey LaFarge all making an appearance. As Ray Benson told Rolling Stone recently “This album is just me trying to get younger and older Bob Wills aficionados together. Every time we put one of these out, I always say it’s the last one. But I shouldn’t say that because it’s not like this music ever died.”

So here we have 22 Western Swing classics, every one a winner really. The old timers are all here, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Del McCoury, George Strait, Robert Earle Keen, Lyle Lovett along with two surviving members of the original Texas Playboys, vocalist Leon Rausch, now aged 86, and sax player, the 92 year old Billy Briggs. There’s a host of others, all bringing something unique to the project but we only have space to mention a few favourites. The Avett’s have great fun with The Girl I Left Behind Me as they get back to their roots. Lyle Lovett croons as only he can on the bluesy Trouble In Mind while Brad Paisley does a great job on My Window Faces The South. Robert Earl Keen dives headfirst into the tongue twisting Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas with Benson duetting (and a special mention here for the very fine pedal steel solo, sublime!). Old Crow Medicine Show deviate somewhat from the overall sound as they basically overlay their own act over Texan swing pedal steel on their fiddletastic and frantic version of Tiger Rag. Of the youngsters Pokey LaFarge perhaps comes out tops as he really lets rip vocally towards the end of What’s The Matter With The Mill, small wonder as he’s been playing this type of music for the past decade. As for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, well, they stamp their authority on their respective numbers (Navajo Trail and Keeper Of My Heart) and both are excellent.

Sure, the songs are somewhat corny but these days corny might actually be hip and there’s no denying that throughout these 22 songs the playing is exemplary with some excellent fiddle, mandolin, piano and pedal steel all present. If you dig classic country then this is a no brainer. Buy it, get the other tributes and then seek out other Asleep At The Wheel classics and maybe some Bob Wills originals, you’ll be a satisfied soul.

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