My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Asleep at the Wheel

Album Review: Dale Watson & Ray Benson – ‘Dale & Ray’

61mjexmhfpl-_ac_us400_ql65_Duos have been a staple of country music almost from the very beginning. At one time it was fairly common for successful solo artists (usually one male and one female signed to the same label) to regularly collaborate for duet albums in addition to their solo projects. In more recent years it’s been more common for artists to collaborate on one-off or occasional projects rather than working together on a regular basis. Thus, such collaborations became regarded to be “events”.

The coming together of Dale Watson and Ray Benson – like-minded individuals who have fought hard to preserve the genre’s integrity, against the prevailing commercial trends of the day – seems on the surface as though it would be just such an event, but unfortunately it’s a project that never quite comes together. It’s difficult to pinpoint why, exactly; it’s just that Watson and Benson don’t complement each other very well vocally, with Benson being the stronger vocalist of the two. The songs themselves are strong, and the backing musicians are superb but Dale & Ray never quite exceeds the sum of its parts.

The album gets off on the wrong foot with the opening track “The Ballad of Dale & Ray”, a tongue-in-cheek number that they first performed at the Ameripolitan Awards. The humor falls a bit flat; however. It may have worked onstage but it probably wasn’t worthy of being memorialized on record. Things improve considerably with the second track, “Feelin’ Haggard”, a tribute to Merle, who of course, passed away last year. They also play homage to Merle’s Bakersfield mentor Buck Owens on “Cryin’ For Cryin’ Time Again”. They also cover “Write Your Own Songs” which lacks the punch of Willie’s original. Their version of “I Wish You Knew” isn’t bad but a Louvin Brothers cover really needs vocalists who can harmonize better together to truly do it justice.

This is an album that I really wanted to like — and I do like it. I just don’t love it the way I thought I would. It’s the kind of music I love but given a choice I’d rather listen to Asleep at the Wheel or Watson’s solo albums. Together Watson and Benson lack chemistry and the album definitely suffers from a lack of synergy.

Grade: B

Christmas Rewind: Asleep at the Wheel – ‘Blue Christmas’

Classic Rewind: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Boogie Back To Texas’

Album Review: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Back to the Future Now: Live at Arizona Charlie’s Las Vegas’

0000076113Asleep At The Wheel released their fourth live album, Back To The Future Now: Live At Arizona Charlie’s Las Vegas back in May 1997. The project, consisting of twelve tracks, opened with a spirited take on “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.” They followed with “Miles and Miles of Texas” and “Roly Poly,” and “Ida Red,” which are equally excellent and feature guest vocals from Tracy Byrd.

The album was culled from a club date in December 1996. The sound of the concert captures the intimacy of the night perfectly, and there truly isn’t a wasted moment in the whole set. I very much enjoyed their spirited reading of “My Baby Thinks He’s A Train,” a song I tend to associate solely with Rosanne Cash’s hit recording. They tear through the Moon Mullican classic “Cherokee Boogie” and more than prove their prowess on “Fat Boy Rag.”

“The Letter That Johnny Walker Read” is a highlight and one of the strongest additions to their set. “Hot Rod Lincoln” is far more charged than the most traditional fare but the breakneck lyric fits in just fine. They also stun on “Boggie Back to Texas” and album closer “House of Blue Lights.”

The centerpiece of the show is the set’s sole ballad, “God Bless The Child.” The song is perfection, clocking in at seven plus minutes. It also uses the fullness of the band in all its glory. There aren’t enough good things I can say about the project, one I strongly recommend. It may be redundant as far as Asleep At The Wheel live albums go, but on its own, it’s definitely worth seeking out.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Asleep at the Wheel – ‘Sugar Moon’

Album Review: Asleep at the Wheel & Leon Rausch – ‘It’s a Good Day’

91xsgyplbl-_sx522_Leon Rausch was the lead singer for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys during the late 1950s and early 1960 and rejoined the band for its final recordings in 1973.  In 2010, he joined forces with Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel for It’s a Good Day, a diverse collection of western swing, big band, jazz and mainstream swing (if there is such a thing) tunes.  He is front and center for the album, handling most of the lead vocals, with AATW acting as his backing band. Floyd Domino, AATW’s original pianist, rejoins the group for this project, as he did for the previous year’s Willie and the Wheel.  The album was produced by Ray Benson.

At age 83, Rausch’s voice is gravelly but still quite strong and he sings surprisingly well for his age.  He holds his own with AATW’s Elizabeth McQueen who duets with him on “Alright, OK, You Win”, a Count Basie tune written by Maymie Watts and Sid Wyche.  It had also been a hit for Peggy Lee in the 1950s, and he outsings Willie Nelson, who acts as his duet partner on “Truck Driver’s Blues”.

I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone to hear that my favorite songs on the album are the more country ones, although I really do like all kinds of swing music and enjoyed the entire album.  The best ones are those that were penned by the great Bob Wills himself:  “I Didn’t Realize”, “Cotton Patch Blues”, “Sugar Moon” (a co-write with Cindy Walker) and “Osage Stomp”, the instrumental jam-session album closer.  I also quite enjoyed “Mean Woman with the Green Eyes”, which was not written by Bob Wills but was recorded by The Texas Playboys.

Benson and his band take a back seat to Rausch on this project, but Asleep at the Wheel , which is one of the best bands in any genre of music, is the glue that holds everything together. As always, the musicianship is excellent.  It’s not a strictly country album, but there isn’t a bad song to be found here.

Grade:  A

Classic Rewind: Asleep At The Wheel ft Vince Gill – ‘Corrina Corrina’

Album Review: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Live From Austin, TX’

live-from-austin-txTheir albums are consistently enjoyable, but Asleep At The Wheel are undoubtedly at their best live. Unsurprisingly, they have recorded a number of live albums. This one, released on New West Records in 2006, consists of a 1992 performance from the Austin City Limits TV show, which saw the band teaming up with surviving members of the Texas Playboys, Bob Wills’ band (including fiddle legend Johnny Gimble who had worked with AATW before). It is also available in DVD format.

They open with the old ragtime instrumental ‘Black And White Rag’ (incorrectly credited on iTunes as a Ray Benson composition). It had been the B side to a recent single release of ‘Route 66’, also performed here.

‘Boot Scoootin’ Boogie’, a then-current Brooks & Dunn hit, had been cut first by AATW in their 1990 Arista album ‘Keeping me Up Nights; their Western swing take is slower and more relaxed than the more familiar version.

They include some of their hit singles – a nice relaxed version of the always likeable ‘Miles And Miles Of Texas’, and a racing ‘Boogie Back To Texas’ which really sets a party mood which is continued with ‘House of Blue Lights’. A lively ‘Hot Rod Lincoln’ with slightly busy accompaniment affects to reproduce the sounds of the race, with mixed results – some of it is very realistic but it sometimes feels a bit too busy. This is the kind of thing which has more impact when you are actually there.

‘Corine Corina’ is performed with great energy, with the Playboys’ Leon Rausch on lead vocals, and I also enjoyed his pacy ‘Sugar Moon’. ‘Blues For Dixie’, a duet between Rausch and Ray Benson, is less memorable, while ‘Roly Poly’ feels a bit rushed. The lesser-known Wills ballad ‘Misery’ is very good, but Ray and the guys stray a bit too far in the tasteful jazz direction for me on ‘You Don’t Know Me’.

This is an enjoyable recording, but the DVD (which I haven’t seen) would probably be a better indicator of their great live show.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens’

Album Review: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Remembers The Alamo’

mi0000402869Asleep At The Wheel released their concept album Remembers The Alamo, thirteen years ago this November. The record is comprised of a hodgepodge of songs pulled from a wide array of sources displaying the breadth of Ray Benson’s research on the titular San Antonio landmark.

The album opens brilliantly, with a bright cover of folk legend Jane Bowers’ “Remember The Alamo,” her account of infamous thirteen-day battle in 1836. The song is from the 1960 John Wayne film of the same name, as does “Green Leaves of Summer,” which features impeccable Spanish guitar licks and a revelatory vocal from Benson. Fiddle and steel dominate the first minute of “New San Antonio Rose,” their gorgeous rendition of the Bob Wills classic.

Among the tracks are five traditional tunes. “Billy In The Low Ground,” “Eighth of January” and “Soldier’s Joy” are fiddle tunes, while “Deguello” is distinguished by the lonesome wails of bugle. For the final one, they turn in a terrific version of “Yellow Rose of Texas.”

“Across the Alley from the Alamo” is a near-perfect facsimile of the version they included eighteen years earlier on their Asleep At The Wheel album. “Ballad of the Alamo” is a delightful folk song, once again about the infamous 1836 battle. Their version of “Ballad of Davy Crockett” is also wonderful although it is borderline cheesy.

The album concludes with two originals composed specifically for the record. Benson co-wrote the insufferable “Don’t Go There,” about the time Ozzy Osborne peed on the Alamo. The comic overtones are terrible and the song is just plain dreck. The other original, “Stout and High” is quite good.

I live in Massachusetts and have never been to Texas apart from layovers, so I have zero connection to anything remotely relating to The Alamo and the state of Texas. So I’m as surprised as any to find I connected with and thoroughly enjoyed this album. The record is fantastic and I highly recommend seeking it out, regardless of where you may be from.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Asleep At the Wheel ft Dwight Yoakam – ‘San Antonio Rose’

Album Review: Asleep at the Wheel – ‘Keepin’ Me Up Nights’

0001597610Released in 1990 as their only studio album for Arista Records, Keepin’ Me Up Nights will do just that as it is a interesting effort throughout.

Asleep At The Wheel (“AATW”) can often feature an astounding number of musicians on stage but this album finds the band being comprised of Ray Benson on lead vocals and guitar; Larry Franklin on fiddle, guitar, and harmony vocals; Tim Alexander on piano, accordion and harmony vocals; John Ely on pedal and lap steel; Michael Francis on saxophone, Joe Mitchell on acoustic and electric bass; and David Sanger on drums. The band is augmented by Greg Jennings playing guitars and six string bass.

The album opens with “Keepin’ Me Up Nights”, a bluesy/jazzy number written by James Dean Hicks and Byron Hill.  In the albums notes Benson says the intent was to do a ‘Ray Charles sings western swing’ arrangement. I would say there were successful.

“Boot Scootin’ Boogie” was written by Ronnie Dunn and would prove to be a major hit for Brooks & Dunn two years later. Since I heard AATW’s version jazzy version first, I found myself surprised at the Brooks & Dunn arrangement and frankly I think AATW did it better, albeit quite differently and definitely not suitable for line dancing.

“Dance With Who Brung You” is a Ray Benson original inspired by a phrase used by former Texas football coach Darrell Royal. This song is done as a mid-tempo ballad.

You got to dance with who brung you, swing with who swung you,
Don’t be a fickle fool,You came here with a gal, who’s always been your pal
Don’t leave her for the first unattached girl, it just ain’t cool
You got to dance with who brung you, swing with who swung you,
Life ain’t no forty-yard dash, be in it for the long run,
’cause in the long run you’ll have more fun, if you dance with who brung You to the bash

Ray collaborated with co-producer Tim Dubois on “Quittin’ Time”, a boogie with real nice sax solos by Michael Francis.

Lisa Silver (who played fiddle on AATW’s second album), Judy Rodman and Carol Chase join the band to provide background vocals on Bobby Braddock’s lovely “Eyes”, an exquisite slow ballad.

Troy Seals and John Schneider wrote “Goin’ Home” is a ballad about the joys of going home after being away too long. This song has a rhythmic arrangement suitable for line dancing.

Well I’ve got a lot of friends on the West Coast,
Got a lot of memories
Well I want you to know that I won’t forget
Everything you’ve done for me
But it’s been too long, just too long
T-T-T-T-T-Too long, I’m a-goin’ home
New York, Detroit, Chicago
You were really somethin’ else
You treated me just like kinfolk y’all,
And I swear I can’t help myself
But it’s been too long, way too long
T-T-T-T-T-Too long, I’m a-goin’ home

I’m gonna write a letter,
I’m gonna send a telegram
Gonna tell everybody this wanderin’ boy is packing his bags right now
And I’m’a goin’ home

“That’s The Way Love Is” was written by former (and founding) AATW member Leroy Preston in 1989. The song, a mid-tempo ballad with a strong Cajun feel to the arrangement (fiddle and accordion), tells of the ups and downs of life. John Wesley Ryles, briefly a star in his own right, chips in background vocals

“Gone But Not Forgotten” was penned by Fred Knobloch and Scott Miller is an up-tempo western swing song about where money goes. We’ve all lived this story …

The great Harlan Howard wrote “You Don’t Have To Go To Memphis”. The premise of the song is that you don’t have to go to Memphis to get the blues, just fall for the wrong woman. The song features nice piano and fiddle solos

You don’t have to go to Memphis to get the Blues
You just fall in love with the kind of women I do
Well, I’ve had me a dozen but I never had me one that
Did not fall through
You don’t have to go to Memphis to get the Blues
There she goes, here I stand
Watching good love slip away
Once again, I’m all alone
Love has come and gone

“Beat Me Daddy (Eight To The Bar)” is a classic boogie from 1940, originally recorded by Will Bradley’s Orchestra (with Ray McKinley on lead vocals). The song was a huge hit for Bradley and has been recorded many times since Bradley’s recording including Commander Cody, Ella Fitzgerald and The Andrews Sisters. The song was completely written by Don Raye although some other names also show up on the writer’s credits

In a little honky-tonky village in Texas
There’s a guy who plays the best piano by far
He can play piano any way that you like it
But the way he likes to play is eight to the bar
When he plays, it’s a ball
He’s the daddy of them all
The people gather around when he gets on the stand
Then when he plays, he gets a hand
The rhythm he beats puts the cats in a trance
Nobody there bothers to dance
But when he plays with the bass and guitar
They holler out, “Beat me Daddy, eight to the bar”

“Texas Fiddle Man” was written by fiddler Larry Franklin and he takes the lead vocals on this song, which features some extended fiddle solos. The folks at Alabama (the band) contributed the idea for the closing riffs.

The album concludes with “Pedernales Stroll” a gentle instrumental tribute to finger pickers such as Chet Atkins, Merle Travis. The song is the only instrumental on the album and as such, the perfect ending to an exciting album

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Hot Rod Lincoln’

Album Review: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Western Standard Time’

western-standard-time1988’s Western Standard Time, the band’s last for Epic, included various covers from the worlds not just of western swing, but country and R&B. As usual, it is played well and enthusiastically, making an entertaining listen.

It produced three modestly performing singles. My favourite is a very nice retro-styled cut on country classic ‘Walk On By’, which reached #55. The follow-up, ‘Hot Rod Lincoln’, a fun spoken rockabilly tune about a car, made it ten places lower. They recruited Willie Nelson to share the vocals on a likeable, relaxed ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ which was the last, non-charting, single.

The band takes on a couple of Western Swing standards – Bob Wills classic ‘San Antonio Rose’ may be the quintessential Western Swing tune, while the quirky ode to a fat child, ‘Roly Poly’, allows the band to stretch out.

‘That’s What I Like About The South’ comes from the jazzier end of western swing – Bob Wills did record it but it was written by a New York based jazz musician. The bluesy ‘That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day’ gets a soulful treatment.

‘Don’t Let Go’ is a rather dull R&B hit from the 1950s which is the one track that left me cold.

The final track is a great version of ‘Walking The Floor Over You’, with Ray Benson doing his best Ernest Tubb impression.

Although there is nothing new here, this is great music, and worth hearing.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘House Of Blue Lights’

Album Review: Asleep at the Wheel – ’10’

61uxgwzhcdl-_ss5001987’s 10 marks the beginning of Asleep at the Wheel’s second brief stint with Epic Records and a commercial resurgence of sort, perhaps fueled by Nashville’s renewed interest in traditional country music. 10, however, is hardly a traditional album; like the band’s other recordings, it is a fusion of country and 1940s swing music. Produced by Ray Benson, it was released following a period when the group had all but disbanded due to financial difficulties. It earned the band a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental, presumably for the track “String of Pars” which is the only instrumental number on the album. The great Johnny Gimble is once again featured as a guest artist.

The album produced four singles, beginning with the excellent Billy Joe Shaver-penned “Way Down Texas Way”, which peaked at #39, becoming the band’s first Top 40 hit in nearly a decade. It was followed by a cover of “House of Blue Lights”, which had twice been a hit in 1946: once for Freddie Slack and Ella Mae Morse and again for The Andrews Sisters. It is not even remotely country, and as such was an odd choice for a single at the height of the New Traditionalist movement. Nevertheless, it rose to #17, marking the second and final time that an AATW album would reach the Top 20. Country it is not, but it is very good. Ray Benson’s composition “Boogie Back to Texas” was the third single. It too was more swing than Western and charted at #53. The fourth single, Guy Clark’s “Blowin’ Like a Bandit” is easily the best song on the album. One has to marvel that “House of Blue Lights” reached the Top 20 while a song that was much more in line with the mainstream tastes of the day topped out at #59.

The musicians are excellent, as always, and their talent goes a long way towards compensating for the occasional weaknesses in the material: a cover of Huey Lewis and The News’ “I Want a New Drug”, which of and by itself is not a great song, and “Big Foot Stomp”, which is also not a great song but obviously not meant to be taken too seriously.

This is short album, clocking in at just over 29 minutes, and it seems to go by even quicker. It’s a wonderful listen and worth seeking out.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Asleep At The Wheel’

mi0001667918Asleep At The Wheel recorded their only album for MCA Nashville in 1985. The project, their second to be self-titled, didn’t have any singles released to radio. The album features an eclectic selection of material, interspersing covers and original tunes.

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys originally recorded three of the album’s songs. The versions found here are excellent, with “Deep Water” and “Your Red Wagon” being highlights. Junior Brown provides Lap Pedal Steel on the former, his first recorded appearance. I also enjoyed “Across The Alley From the Alamo” even though I don’t have a connection to the Texas landmark.

I was disappointed in opening number “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” a traditional song that typically shreds much harder than their slightly somber interpretation. Chris O’Connell joins Benson for a duet of John Hiatt’s “This Is The Way We Make A Broken Heart,” a tune Rosanne Cash would take to #1 a few years later.

O’Connell is similarly terrific singing lead on both Paul Young’s sinister “Baby” and the rip-roaring “Switchin’ In The Kitchen.” Willie Nelson contributes harmonies to his “Write Your Own Songs,” a lyric he penned in response to the record executives who dared interfere with his artistic process. The final two numbers, “Liar’s Moon” and “Shorty” are Benson originals and both are quite good.

There exists a dated sheen to this album, which is to be expected given its age (it was released 31 years ago). But the musicianship and their tightness as a band nicely shine through the slightly warmed over tones. I don’t regard Asleep At The Wheel as an exceptional album, but it is very, very good and worth seeking out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Texas Gold’

texas-goldAsleep At The Wheel’s third full-length album, and their first for Capitol Records, was released in 1975, It reveals them at the height of their powers, and also at the zenith of their commercial success.

‘The Letter That Johnny Walker Read’ was their most successful ever single, as a top 10 country hit. It’s a great story song with emotional impact, written by the band’s Ray Benson and Leroy Preston with Chris Frayne. Benson takes the lead vocal, with female vocalist Chris O’Connell plaintively singing the text of the letter, from the drunken protagonist’s abandoned wife.

The band shows off their instrumental chops throughout, but especially on a cover of the Bob Wills tune ‘Fat Boy Rag’, and on ‘Bump, Bounce Boogie’, although the latter is not a full instrumental but features a vocal from Chris O’Connell. It was the second single, but was probably not commercial enough, peaking just outside the top 30. O’Connell also sang lead on ‘Nothin’ Takes The Place Of You’, a sophisticated late Patsy Cline-style ballad with a brassy accompaniment – nice but not particularly distinctive, its chart peak was #35. O’Connell also takes the lead on a lovely version of the hymn ‘Where No One Stands Alone’.

‘Tonight The Bartender Is On The Wrong Side Of The Bar’ is an excellent Leroy Preston song about heartbreak and booze. ‘Runnin’ After Fools’ is a jazz-influenced mid-paced number which is well done but not so much to my taste.

‘Let Me Go Home Whiskey’ and ‘Roll ‘Em Floyd/Rebecca’ are old blues songs which the band liven up with a playful western swing twist. The album closes with a classic western swing version of ‘Trouble In Mind’ with a raucous brass outro.

This is an excellent album which is qunintessential Asleep at the Wheel. It is available digitally, and on a 2for1 CD with Comin’ Right At Ya.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Route 66’

Classic Rewind: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘The Letter That Johnny Walker Read’