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The Party Ain't Over
Wanda Jackson The Party Ain't Over
Released 21 January 2011
Producer Jack White III
Label

Nonesuch/Third Man Records
Length 39:06
Genre Rock, roots
Website www.wandajackson.com
55

Rockabilly, the 1950s precursor to Rock'n'Roll, seems to have been neatly wrapped up as a kitsch curio from a bygone age. The false memory of middle-America has created a role for Rockabilly as the charming, toothless good-time music for the juke box in Happy Days. But just as Rock'n'Roll owes its existence to the blues music of a segregated America (blues music was once marketed as ‘Race’ music, and in Germany is still marketed as ‘Black’ music); Rockabilly was created by the rural poor.

If the ‘roll’ in Rock'n'Roll was a nod to the blues, the ‘billy’ in Rockabilly is a nod to the hillbilly folk music that informed it. Whereas Bluegrass is the most obvious offspring of the European folk music of westward expansion, Rockabilly emerged as its troubled child. It relied less on folk motifs for its rhythm and focused on plucked bass, washboards and drumming. Its content reflected its style. There was very little in the way of Baptist hymns, nostalgia or love songs. Rockabilly was entranced with the here and now, especially if the here and now involved bad behaviour and a disregard for social norms. It’s little surprise that both The Fall and The Cramps would adopt it as their signature style.

According to Wanda Jackson, The Party Ain’t Over, a reminder of her 1959 hit 'Let’s Have a Party'– the song that cemented her reputation as the Queen of Rockabilly. With Jack White on production duties, one might expect the kind of resurrection that saw Johnny Cash return to a new career high before bowing out on a cover version of 'Hurt'. High hopes, and unrealised ones at that. Most of the songs are upholstered with horn sections or are awkward covers (it’s difficult to take a born-again granny seriously when she’s talking about her biker boyfriend on Amy Winehouse’s 'You Know I’m No Good'), and while Jackson’s voice and the music that accompanies it bears up well, there is an air of frustration about the whole affair– as though she or Jack White couldn’t find a way to get make The Queen of Rockabilly appeal to an audience born long after her heyday.

There is a simpler way: Listen to her old stuff. So much clever-clever production can be patronising, and reveals a lack of faith in the artist. One track, a cover of Eddie Cochran’s 'Nervous Breakdown', comes close to simply allowing her to sing as she is. It’s the best track on the album and, if any good comes from this collaboration, it will get some curious listeners delving into the archives.

- Paul McGranaghan