Asleep At The Wheel are a fine example of how musical fashions come and go. They kicked off in 1969 when many bands were coming down from their psychedelic highs and discovering their roots with even The Grateful Dead featuring pedal steel. Asleep At The Wheel, with Ray Benson at the helm, played Western Swing with Bob Wills their guiding light and the hippies loved them. Along with Commander Cody & The Lost Planet Airmen they conjured up good times with beer, whisky and trucking their drugs of choice.
Punk and New Wave kind of took the wind out of their sails with resultant line up changes but country punk and the nascent alt country scene of the late 80’s allowed the band to grow their audience once more as they themselves grew into an institution of sorts. Their tributes to Wills (which gathered the old guard and young upstarts together) and their collaboration with Willie Nelson are essential listening and they are the recipients of nine Grammy Awards.
This release is a two disc CD containing four albums Asleep At The Wheel recorded from 1987 to 1990 and, it has to be said, it’s a bargain. The first, Ten, from 1987, commenced their renaissance as they delivered their usual good time Western Swing and applied it to writers such as Billy Joe Shaver, Joe Ely and Guy Clark while there was an audacious cover of Huey Lewis’ I Want A New Drug which knocks spots off of the original. Western Standard Time was recorded the following year and it delved deep into their Western Swing Roots kicking off with an excellent version of Chattanooga Choo Choo with Willie Nelson sharing vocals with Benson. Their big band sound (horns, pedal steel, piano, fiddle along with guitar, bass and drums) really swells into its own here and there’s a thumping great version of Hot Rod Lincoln while Ernest Tubbs’ Walking The Floor Over You is a textbook example of homage. 1990’s Keepin’ Me Up Nights does pale somewhat in comparison but its 12 songs still swing with Boot Scootin’ Boogie and Beat Me Daddy (Eight To The Bar) quite feisty while Dance With Who Brung You, a Ray Benson original, is yet another Western Swing gem.
Live & Kicking, as its name suggests, is a live recording from the late 80’s in their adopted homeland of Austin, Texas and it’s a perfect capture of the band in full swing. Rowdy and boisterous they rip through standards such as Route 66, Jambalaya, Choo Choo Boogie and Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens. Let loose from the studio the band let fly with the piano, fiddle and horns given free rein to extemporise. Again it’s Bob Wills who provides the inspiration for the best performance here as the band parlay an excellent take on Take Me Back To Tulsa/Stay All Night with Benson at his best, a laconic master of ceremony.