Willie Nelson, Texas’ favorite redhead and his Western Swing pals from Asleep at the Wheel are set to release a new CD on Tuesday, Feb. 3, called “Willie and The Wheel.”
I’ve had the promotional copy for three days and let me say this ... if Western Swing is your thing - and I mean the honest-to-goodness Western Swing of Bob Wills, Milton Brown and Cliff Bruner - then this CD is a must for your collection.
y grandparents, who lived in Oak Cliff at the time, took me to Fort Worth once to see Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. I was just a kid, so I don’t remember much other than really liking the music. I rejected my country roots during the British invasion, but as I get older, it seems the music of my youth has held up better than the Fab Four.
Nelson and the Wheel toured together in “The Last of the Breed Tour” - along with Ray Price and Merle Haggard - in early 2007 and have collaborated many times over the years. On the new CD, the icon and the swing band blend seamlessly, which is a testament to the musicality of both Nelson and the musicians who make up Asleep at the Wheel.
There’s a reason why Nelson was one of Johnny Carson’s favorite guests. No one - save Frank Sinatra - can interpret a lyric like Nelson. He glides in and around the words like a paper airplane with no rudder. You never know how it’s going to twist and turn, but you know it’s going to fly. Normally, he’s about a half a beat late, which would sound just awful coming from anyone else, but Nelson makes it work.
Asleep at the Wheel has never sounded better. The people surrounding Ray Benson, the band’s founder and front man, are top shelf.
Jason Roberts has really matured as a fiddle player. His role in The Wheel’s play, “A Ride with Bob,” has helped him understand the story of the King of Swing's life. Since playing the lead in the play, Roberts’ performances are deeper, richer and more in sync with Wills’ special style.
Elizabeth McQueen, the band’s precious girl singer, has added such light and joy to the mix. (McQueen and her husband, David Sanger, The Wheel's drummer, are expecting their first child anytime.) Her duet with Willie on “Sitting on Top of the World,” (Bob Wills’ song, not the Peggy Lee hit) may be scored in a blues tempo, but the way she sings with Willie is guaranteed to make you smile.
Another great addition to the band is steel guitar player Eddie Rivers. I’ve been listening to slide players for a long time and, to my ears, Rivers can stand with the best of them. He draws appreciative – and raucous – during each show, especially when it's his turn for a solo.
The Wheel's pianist John Michael Whitby gets some time on this CD, too. Love the way he tickles the ivories. He makes it sound so easy and carefree.
Joining the Wheel on this CD are Floyd Domino on piano, Dave Alexander, band leader - and all-around nice guy - on trumpet and Mike Mordecai on trombone, while Jonathan Doyle adds some New Orleans flavor with his clarinet.
“Hesitation Blues” opens the CD and lets the band wail. Everyone gets a chance to shine. Rivers is particularly smooth on this cut. There's just a touch of Dixieland on this one, too.
“Sweet Jennie Lee” has been on the Wheel’s play list the past three or four times I’ve seen them. Now, I know why it was added. They were getting ready to lay it down for this CD. Rivers and the piano really stand out, along Roberts getting in some pretty good licks along the way.
I hope to have some comments from Big Ray and Eddie Rivers for the complete review of the CD in an upcoming edition of the News-Telegram.
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