Music Review: Wanda Jackson – Unfinished Business
By Mike Krings
Available on Sugar Hill Records (Oct. 9, 2012)
At an age when most people have left business concerns behind, Wanda Jackson is still working harder than people just getting started. The Queen of Rockabilly has cranked out her second album in as many years, again produced by a musician who wasn’t even born when Wanda started rockin’.
Jackson’s Unfinished Business collects 10 tracks that touch on each of her strengths: rockabilly, heartache-y country, blues and gospel. Justin Townes Earle makes his production debut, giving the proceedings a lean, honky-tonk feel. Fresh off of 2011’s The Party Ain’t Over–produced by Jack White–Business once again gathers several standards, some in Jackson’s wheelhouse, others not quite a full realization of Jackson’s legendary, gravelly voice.
One of the first women to record a rock and roll song, Jackson has been singing blistering rockabilly tunes since the late ’50s. Fortunately for listeners, her voice hasn’t left her and still has its bite as evidenced on “Tore Down,” the album’s opener. Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now” gets the vengeful, not-sorry-for-myself blues treatment and the Etta James hit “Pushover” finds Jackson’s sultry croon scolding a would-be lothario.
For years, Jackson left rockabilly behind to focus on country and later gospel before coming back to her first love. She duets with Earle on “Am I Even a Memory,” as they trade verses of heartache and loss, a steel guitar wailing with nearly palpable regret all the while. She’s not lost the touch for Saturday night barroom ballads or those more appropriate for Sunday morning service, as evidenced on the joyous “Two Hands.”
Song selection aside, the centerpiece of Unfinished Business is Jackson’s voice. Even on the weakest track, the Woody Guthrie-penned and Jeff Tweedy-finished “California Stars,” a song that doesn’t play to her strengths, that voice still sounds magical. Earle’s inexperience behind the controls shows in spots, as the music sounds thin and the band as if they’re in another room. That’s not the point though, as Jackson proves she still has pipes many aspiring singers would kill for. While not as vital as her previous effort, it’s good to see Jackson still taking care of business.
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