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Happy Hosting, Happy New Year
It is 48 years since Ray Benson helped form Asleep At The Wheel, and with some new blood injected into the ensemble the last few years. Benson is not only performing his usual mix of Western swing, country, boogie woogie and rock’n’roll but music sounding as good (and fresh) if not better than the ‘Wheel’ has made of new material in many a moon. Not that Benson and the band has been in the habit of allowing the standard to slip. No Sir! On blending in new compositions by himself and Shore with golden oldies that include one or two surprises the music is top-class. Benson, after his third Bob Wills tribute Still The King felt he needed to make an album of new material with the present lineup. Katie Shore on fiddle and vocals: Denis Ludiker on fiddle, mandolin: Connor Forsyth on piano, Josh Hoag on bass and Jay Reynolds on reeds -have longtime drummer, David Sanger, steel player, and sax soloist Eddie Rivers and the man himself, Benson on lead guitar and vocals capture their energy successfully.
Shore’s lead vocals are most impressive, as are Benson’s. Shore joined the band in 2013, for her part she glows like a becon on Jack I’m Mellow, her own beautiful ballad Weary Rambler and a respectable cover of Johnny Cash’s Big River. Plus their their tune superb tune, Call It A Day Tonight and tantalising More Days Like This (Seth Walker, Gary Nicholson). Such is her command of her work she has in many ways thrown down the gauntlet regards the position of lead vocalist, and Benson shows he is no slouch when it comes to fronting the band. As demonstrated on a rousing version of Seven Days To Rock (as covered by Bruce Springsteen) and Scottish singer-songwriter Paulo Nutio’s Pencil Full Of Lead.
I noted a surprise or two, and with his cover of Guy Clark’s Dublin Blues and the inclusion of Seth Avett’s Willie Got There First (Seth and his brother, fellow member of The Avett Brothers Scott sharing the role of lead vocalist on this treasure) you have two noteworthy inclusions. Written about Benson’s best friend, country music legend, Willie Nelson it ticks all the boxes. As you have lyrics recounting classic songs written by the songwriting master. What a way to round off a record, and with the Avett’s copying Nelson’s unique phrasing and Nelson’s longtime band members, Mickey Raphael (harmonica) and Willie’s older sister, Bobbie Nelson (86 years young) on piano supplementing, the band it is an irresistible affairs. One of those performances few could match and, the boys don’t overplay the Nelson traits but colour the canvas sufficiently to draw the listener closer than at any other time on the album. So close you will immediately want to hear it again and again!
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