After years of slightly questionable projects that may have sounded good during a three-in-the-morning-fog but failed in practice (the reggae album, that song with Snoop Dogg to name a few) Willie Nelson’s finally made a winner.
With Ray Benson and the rest of Asleep at the Wheel, the aptly titled Willie and the Wheel is possibly the best thing to happen to western swing since Bob Wills.
Full of the fiddles, lap steel-guitar and plenty of horns that make the genre great, combined with some heavenly ivory-tickling from Floyd Domino each track boogies towards perfection.
The toe-tapping starts right away with the first notes of Hesitation Blues and doesn’t pause for a break until the soulful I’m Sittin’ on Top of the World which showcases Elizabeth McQueen’s honky-tonk twang.
Sweet Jennie Lee, a tune that Asleep at the Wheel has been breaking out at some of their recent live shows, marries the harmonies from the band flawlessly with Willie’s distinctive voice.
The instrumental South, originally recorded by Bennie Moten in 1927, gets some special help from Paul Shaffer and Vince Gill.
The remainder of the 12 vintage tracks (all hand-picked from a stack of executive producer Jerry Wexler’s LPs) are equally exuberant with plentiful solos from steel-guitarist Eddie Rivers.
Grab a dancing partner and your cowboy boots (you’ll need both) and pick up a copy of Willie and the Wheel or tune-in for their special Austin City Limits show to be taped on Feb. 23 (air date to be announced).