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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wanda Jackson - The Party Ain't Over: B

It is quite a surprise to see how an artist so generation defining and deliriously consistent could make such a decent album bogged down by such poor musical choices. Jack White’s production on marginally well known soul songstress Wanda Jackson’s newest album is the worst product White has put his name on since the White Stripes 2005 misstep, Get Behind Me Satan. But where that record’s fault came from White’s overreaching need to bring in new sounds, The Party Ain’t Over, Jackson’s first album in six years, is impeded by a handful of frustrating production flourishes.

However, before I delve into that aspect of The Party Ain’t Over, I must address an issue I have with the record that is apparent right from the album’s onset, and that is that Jackson’s voice is just not particularly good. Whether it’s draped in reverb for most of the record, or placed in front of a fan like in first track “Shakin All Over”, Jackson’s voice is too reedy and timid to carry the record to any noticeable heights. Which would be fine if White didn’t choose songs for her that required her to feature some sort of sneer. Her performances on that song and the Amy Winehouse cover “You Know I Ain’t No Good” sound forced. The only time her voice truly feels comfortable amidst the material being played is the album’s final track, “Blue Yodel #6”, but, even then, it sounds like an acoustic rip-off of White Blood Cells track, “Now Mary”.

The rest of White’s influence apparent The Party Ain’t Over amounts to bursts of skuzzy bass, occasional frenetic solos and a distinct production on the drums in which it clear that it is White behind the kit. “Busted” and “Rum and Coca-Cola” sound like permutations of tossed-off Dead Weather B-Sides, but that sound that proved to be so successful on that band’s two records cannot save them from both being ill-conceived song choices. “Busted”’s circus-like bounce comes off as clumsy and the calypso of “Rum and Coca-Cola” is yet another case in which Jackson’s voice just doesn’t sound comfortable.

But the most galling aspect of The Party Ain’t Over is the record’s omnipresent horn section. Whether it be in “You Know I’m No Good” or “Nervous Breakdown”, its interjections instantly turn the respectable tracks into cheesy romps that wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack to The Jungle Book. The worst case is in “Thunder on the Mountain”. I don’t particularly like Bob Dylan all that much, but even I can see that White and Jackson’s treatment of his Modern Times track does the song very little justice. The horn section strips the track of any earnestness and Jackson’s straightforward performance strips out all the personality that justified the song’s long length. A song like “Thunder on the Moutain” is tough to cover, because its enjoyment lies in the rhythm of Dylan’s performance, and to hear Jackson plow through it is a missed opportunity and the album’s biggest folly.

The rest of Party ranges from decent to pretty good, keeping the album from being decidedly crappy. “Rip It Up” and “Dust on the Bible” are probably the album’s highlights, but that isn’t saying much, because I have qualms with them simply for the fact that Jackson sings on them. People expecting to hear another Van Lear Rose, will be sorely disappointed, and White Stripes fans can justifiably point out that it’s been four years since that group’s come out with a proper album (Update: :'( ). The Party Ain’t Over is a very decent record, but anyone buying it will, I’m sure, come to expect something of far better quality.


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